Last year, I blogged about Microsoft's stunt at VMworld -- passing out business cards entitled "VMwareCostsWayTooMuch.com" (with a $1 chip from the Venetian, I might add). If you recall, Microsoft contended that they tried to gain additional visibility at the conference through the "normal" sponsorship channels at VMworld (sponsoring lunches, banners, and the like), only to be headed off by VMware.
The blog stated:
"Even if VMware did keep Microsoft's visibility artificially down, this is not the way to get VMware to change their stance (after all -- it is their conference). If anything, it had the opposite effect."
It's obvious there is a need for another vendor-neutral virtualization conference in the market. Microsoft feels constrained, and I know there are others (although to their credit, they didn't pull the same stunt).
Well here we are at VMworld 2009...game on. VMware, in response has placed more restrictions on VMworld sponsorship, including confining competing vendors to a measly 10x10 booth, restricting sponsors to not hold other virtualization events within a 50 mile radius (see Rich Crusco's blog) of VMworld, and inhibiting competing vendors to hold conference rooms at local hotels (see Simon Crosby's blog).
Of course, it's hard to blame VMware. After all, it's their show. VMWorld has always been a VMWare event. If you have any doubt, take a look at the conference sessions. What's the breakdown of VMware vs. non-VMware sessions? Who are the keynote speakers? So, let's not beat up VMware too much.
Unfortunately, its the virtualization customer who suffers. Customers who want more information regarding hyper-V or XenServer, will simply have to attend additional conferences such as Microsoft's Tech-Ed or Citrix Synergy. While not optimal, it's not VMware, Microsoft or Citrix's fault. It's no one's fault. It's just a competitive reality in our industry. In fact, if you look at other conferences, the owning vendor enacts some of the same restrictions on participating vendors that VMware does at VMworld.
But the question is, what should VMware do? How should VMworld evolve in order to enhance the customer experience and allow the event to grow without giving up messaging and marketing control?
This situation reminds me of what happened to Novell and Networld+Interop. As many of you know, Networld was a Novell-owned show and merged with Interop in an attempt to create a larger industry-wide event. It worked. N+I became extremely popular and eventually became the "networking" show - outgrowing all but the biggest of conference centers. Inevitably, Novell faced the same issues as VMware does with VMworld...competitors where showing up, sporting their wares, making competitive statements and such. At the same time, there was clear demand for a NetWare centric conference. Novell was faced with a dilemma, keep N+I a vendor-neutral conference and start a NetWare specific conference or throw their weight around and make N+I a Novell conference. Kudos to Novell for keeping N+I open... the conference, industry, and attendee benefited greatly. However, Novell eventually created Brainshare, to meet customer demand. Now, it's easy to arm-chair quarterback and say, "Well Novell chose the wrong path". Maybe, maybe not. Brainshare is still a very successful Identity Management event and it's hard to know if Novell's product and strategy message would have been lost on the bigger N+I stage. Certainly, Novell would not have maintained the same level of control.
Based on what I'm seeing this year, VMware is making a clear choice. VMworld is a VMware event...and will remain so. Probably a prudent move by VMware, but I think they could loosen some of the restrictions and enhance the VMworld experience for the attendee -- which will only make the conference grow -- without losing control. And maybe that's the message for VMware...drop some of the restrictions and take the high ground. You're the leader...be the leader. It only hurts the conference in the long run. The message to participating vendors (*cough* Microsoft *cough*): Don't disparage the host...it's not cool and appears a bit desperate.
One thing is clear (as I stated earlier)...there is room in this market for a vendor-neutral virtualization conference. Could VMware help to start this idea?
posted by: Drue Reeves