VMworld 2015 and the Road to the SDDC

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  September 9, 2015

When you attend the number of annual IT vendor and industry conferences that I do, most seem cut from similar strategy/partner/customer cloth. But that’s not the case with VMware’s annual VMworld celebration, the latest of which occurred in San Francisco last week. Why that’s the case and what it implies is worth considering.

To begin with was the sheer size of VMworld 2015, with approximately 23,000 attendees. That’s certainly smaller than behemoth conferences like Salesforce Dreamforce (135k attendees in 2014) and Oracle OpenWorld (60k attendees in 2014). But CA and BMC are more closely comparable to VMware’s core focus on data center management, and VMworld 2015 was 4X-5X larger than both CA World 2014 and BMC Engage 2014.

A larger point is that VMworld 2015 found VMware’s already notable ambition accelerating at full tilt. That was apparent in the consistently upbeat keynotes and occasionally cocky comments by senior company executives.

But it was also present in the announcements crafted for the conference. Those included VMware EVO SDDC, described as the “first fully automated software suite for delivering the software-defined data center”, new vSphere integrated containers, hybrid cloud and end user computing updates and an introduction to a new “Photon” platform for cloud-native/mobile application development.

The underlying message was that while VMware is the market’s leading commercial virtualization platform, that business is a small fraction of what the company believes it can and will eventually achieve. The energy of VMware representatives and the enthusiasm of the VMworld 2015 crowd made that heady optimism hard to dispute but a number of related issues were left largely unaddressed or unexplored.

First and foremost, while VMware owns a solid majority share of the x86 virtualization market, its sales are growing slower than competing solutions, particularly Microsoft’s Hyper-V. Second, though the company’s is deeply invested in hybrid cloud, its technologies play a limited role in or are entirely absent from many public cloud platforms.

Finally, VMware’s singular focus on x86-based virtualization means it is a nonentity in mainframe and other scale-up computing environments. The company may believe (as many do) that x86-based servers will eventually win the day, but market research suggests that $8B+ in scale-up servers will be sold in 2015. That’s a good piece of business, especially since the lion’s share of those systems are being purchased by the large enterprise customers VMware and its competitors covet.

Those points aside, most of the positive messaging and good vibes that were so visible at VMworld 2015 were well-deserved. VMware created the market for x86 virtualization pretty much single-handedly and it continues to drive valuable innovations for its business customers. For that reason, its future-focused efforts should be taken seriously.

But VMware also needs very badly for those and other new developments to succeed in order to retain and extend its commercial leadership. VMware is likely correct about the sunny future of SDDC and hybrid cloud but the road ahead will be cloudier and longer than many suspect.

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