Revisiting VMworld 2015 – 1:1 Briefings

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  September 23, 2015

A couple of weeks ago, I published some general thoughts on the recent VMworld 2015 conference and its practical and strategic implications for VMware. But I attended some interesting, even exceptional 1:1 briefings during the conference that were worth separate attention. Below are a few thoughts concerning those encounters:

  1. vRealize Automation – My meeting with VMware’s Chanda Dani, marketing director for the company’s Cloud Management Products, focused on a subject that doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves: automated IT management solutions for hybrid cloud. Why is it so important? Because without them, IT organizations would have to deal with multiple, complex, sometimes conflicting management platforms, and risk the human errors so common in manual management processes. According to VMware, vRealize Automation supports multiple vendors’ software and deployment tools and can be integrated with more public cloud platforms than other offerings. My takeaway: While powerful, VMware’s vRealize Automation can’t do everything for everyone. Plus, the company is competing in a field crowded with similar offerings from system vendors, management software specialists and cloud companies. That said, vRealize Automation is well-worth the attention of VMware customers considering or planning hybrid cloud deployments.
  2. VDI Evolution – Interest in Virtual Desktop Infrastructures has accelerated over the past 2-3 years due to shifts in user behavior and trends like BYOD. So while VDI was once touted as a cost effective solution for traditional thin and zero clients, it is now being promoted as a backend solution for supporting end points of every kind. That was the essence of a briefing I had with EMC’s Jay Chitnis, director of the company’s Enterprise Applications Solutions, and given the data center assets the EMC Federation brings to the table, that strategy makes perfect sense. In essence, the company’s VCE converged systems with EMC storage have been highly optimized for VMware Horizon, the company’s core VDI solution, and can be configured for a wide variety of virtual desktop situations, applications and data sources. The point is to ensure that workers have seamless, uniform access to the applications, data and business processes they need no matter what device they’re using. A briefing with Dell’s Dan O’Farrell who is a member of its Cloud Client team confirmed that the company is pursuing a similar strategy with a few tweaks all its own. That’s because Dell is one of a very few that has a true end-to end VDI story to tell, in large part on the strength of its business endpoint portfolio, which runs the gamut from zero and thin clients to high-end workstation notebooks. Dell’s Cloud Client solutions also take full advantage of latest generation Intel Xeon processors, along with storage and memory technologies. The result has been an effective doubling of capacity in the company’s VDI backend solution, where one 2U rack system can now support up to over 400 virtual desktops. Finally, I spent some time with NVIDIA’s Victoria Rege, director of product marketing for NVIDIA Grid, the company’s solution for media streaming and accelerating virtual desktops. In essence, Grid is a virtualized system environment based on NVIDIA’s TESLA GPUs. The virtualized GPUs (vGPU’s) can be apportioned to support a variety of solutions from basic knowledge worker PC applications to complex media required by high-end designers. NVIDIA’s was one of the more impressive booths at the VMworld expo: a two-story structure sporting 40 large HD displays, all running different video streams and supported by a single NVIDIA Grid 2.0 system. As an illustration of how far VDI has come over the past half-decade, it was hard to beat. My takeaway: VDI complements evolutionary trends occurring in both virtualization and end user/end point computing. As such, I expect VDI solutions from EMC, Dell, NVIDIA and other vendors to enjoy continuing, healthy growth.
  3. Start-Up City – Given the San Francisco location of VMworld 2015 and the torrid local market for IT start-ups, it’s unsurprising that scores of tiny to small-sized companies were on hand for the conference. I met with several, but two stood out in terms of innovatively simplifying complex processes and in having a somewhat similar strategic focus. That focus is on the needs of two very distinct kinds of companies; 1) small businesses that begin by using public clouds like AWS for most/all their computing needs, then discover they need to develop/build on-premises IT, and 2) large enterprises that want to build AWS-like functionality into their private IT infrastructures. The two companies, Platform9 and Formation Data Systems have very different solutions and pedigrees. The former (which I wrote about in the July 1, 2015 edition of the Review) was founded in 2014 by former VMware engineers who have grown their organization with engineering talent from VMware, Pivotal, Microsoft, Cisco, Stanford and UC Berkeley. In essence, Platform9 delivers OpenStack-based private cloud as a SaaS solution, removing most of the complexity of that process and opening the benefits of the technology to a far wider community of users. The latter company, Formation Data Systems, boasts Mark Lewis as its co-founder & CEO. Lewis has been a major figure in the storage industry for years, including senior management/executive stints at Compaq and EMC, and as an adviser at Silverlake Partners. Formation focuses on what Lewis calls Dynamic Storage, a management platform that runs on virtually any storage hardware/software and provides end users easy access to information resources that are also effectively controlled by in-house IT. By doing so, Formation enables storage services analogous to those available at AWS and Microsoft Azure, which also meet the customer organization’s strictest security and compliance requirements. My takeaway: While Formation Data Systems and Platform9 may not be everyone’s cup of tea, both companies have developed innovative tools for solving highly complex problems. By doing so, the companies are likely to ensure the interest and gratitude of the customers they initially target, but it’s also likely that their solutions will excite wider interest and achieve greater success.

Final analysis

Like most IT vendor conferences, VMworld 2015 focused on long crafted company strategies and well-rehearsed corporate messaging that, while interesting, tended to be short on spontaneity. But like other IT conferences I attend, the real surprises occurred in 1:1 briefings I attended and during chance encounters in and outside of the conference hall. The time I spent with representatives from VMware, EMC, Dell, NVIDIA, Playtorm9 and Formation Data Systems was valuable to me personally, but also provided a strong sense of the innovation information technology continues to drive and the value it offers business customers.

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