VMworld 2016’s keynote snoozer is no worry for the infrastructure innovators


VMware missed an opportunity to energize the opening day crowd with a keynote that contained nothing particularly new and a series of on stage appearances that had little of substance.

global IT workloads - VM World 2016
Workload predictions – VMworld 2016

The VMworld 2016 opening keynote was a full 90 minutes of my life I won’t get back. It was an opportunity for Pat Gelsinger, CEO VMware and his lieutenants to inject some energy into the 23,000 strong crowd. Instead of which, VMware squandered the opportunity.

In doing so, upstarts like Nutanix, which has been annoying VMware the last couple of years with a much snazzier story, must be laughing all the way to the customer pitches.

As an aside, I asked Kurt Marko, who is on the ground at VMworld, whether I was misreading the mood from the benefit of the livestream cheap seats. Apparently not. Back to the plot.

The first 30 minutes were wasted with a plodding cloud history lesson that could readily have been summed up in five minutes. This is a crowd that understands the hype around public clouds is way overblown and that the current and near term future rests with private or hybrid clouds but with a long term game of public cloud first.

This crowd also understands that the media agenda of eager hand waving towards Amazon and, occasionally Microsoft, are the easy topics du jour for tech media that almost certainly bears no relationship to their reality.

Note to VMware – just deal with it in a matter of fact manner and then show the pathway forward.

It took a full 33 minutes before the keynote turned to the pre-announced and selectively placed Cross Cloud Services and Cloud Foundation pitch. Even that left me going ‘Duh?’ Why? Gelsinger rightly pointed to the fact that despite the many public cloud services that have crept in under IT’s noses, managing the hybrid cloud environment including security and governance – IT’s favorite topics – falls squarely on IT’s shoulders. But the announcements are vaporware and, for the time being, are restricted in partner terms to IBM. This from Dina Bass’s preview at Bloomberg:

While the Cross-Cloud services will address multiple public clouds, Cloud Foundation will initially work with IBM only, though Gelsinger said in the interview that VMware will add other cloud providers in the future. Companies can also buy the software installed on servers from companies like Dell and Hewlett Packard Enterprise and place those in their own data centers.

I’ll put it another way: VMware wants to be the neutral arms dealer that cleans up the mess that hybrid clouds create for IT. That’s not a bad pitch but it is one with a finite lifespan. Just as data centers have gone from mass virtualization (from which VMware has been a principal beneficiary) to software defined, VMware’s attempt to position itself as the enabler of multiple technologies cannot survive beyond the timeframe when the public cloud becomes the dominant way by which services are accessed. “That give us 14 years,” said Gelsinger.

VMWorld mega cloud

VMware pitches that timeline in decades, saying that public cloud will only become dominant by 2030. I’ve stopped thinking about these kinds of timeline prediction. They’ve all proven unreliable.

I am more taken with the confidence with which the likes of Salesforce and Workday are predicting growth over the coming few years, alongside what looks like a growth flywheel from Amazon coupled to Microsoft’s relentless public cloud push.

In that sense, I worry that while VMware brought out big guns from IBM, Citi and Marriott, the real audience and market for its new services is the massive number of businesses that are observers of digital transformation rather than change leaders. That, to me, was reinforced in the demo where the company said that the new services are the old services but effectively backfilled for public cloud operations. That’s comforting for the many IT departments that are under pressure to do more with less.

That’s also a decent business strategy when you have a massive installed base. But nowhere in the conversations on stage did I hear something that struck me as a stand out example of innovation. IoT got a nod but nothing was said where I could go: ‘Oooh – that’s interesting.’

The keynote was topped off by a strange sit down with Michael Dell, CEO Dell. It was a total snoozer that thankfully lasted little more than five minutes and contained zero content. I guess that’s hardly surprising given that if Dell has its way, then VMware will be subsumed inside the gigantic EMC acquisition. There is of course the prospect that by this time next year, Gelsinger will be retired.

In fairness to the man, Gelsinger has always been someone who presents in a relatively laid back manner and without the kind of hard charging we see elsewhere. To that extent, the keynote played to the way he likes to pitch. Even so, and in the face of of an increasingly competitive marketplace, I expected more energy and urgency in the messaging.

Oh yes – one problem VMware absolutely will have to address: pricing. Nothing was announced yet it is a high cost provider following in the footsteps of its nose-bleed storage masters EMC. The cloud world has dramatically upended traditional enterprise pricing. VMware has already had issues in this regard. Has it learned the lessons of the past or were the multiple references to security and governance code for more of the same? We shall see.

Elsewhere, executives from Nutanix and PernixData were following up yesterday’s announcement with a stop by Silicon Angle’s video tent. The message?

Now that Nutanix has acquired PernixData, the next goal is to help companies decide what cloud works best for them, said Potti. When choosing between public or private, it’s important to keep two things in mind, feasibility and migration speed, he stated.

It’s less about which platform is better and more about which best suits the enterprise. A company must “choose the right cloud and enable the seamless migration to that cloud,” said Potti. There are benefits to both platforms, but as time passes, Nutanix hopes to blur the lines between the public and private cloud structures.

Does that sound more interesting to you? It does to me because it directly aligns with business goals rather than simply providing IT with a defensive shield.

Image credit - All images grabbed from keynote presentation live stream

Disclosure - Salesforce and Workday are premier partners at time of writing