Sysadmin blog VMware has officially launched vSphere 6.0, and I can say without reservation that it is a truly excellent release. I have spent much of the past year expressing skepticism about VMware; face-first exposure to the darker, more political aspects of the organisation had caused me to lose faith in the company. So good is vSphere 6, however, that those misgivings have been brushed ruthlessly to one side.
VMware's marketing minions have been working overtime, briefing tame journalists and wooing analysts. Trusted vExperts and evangelists were asked to join the vSphere 6.0 beta program and have flooded the internet with a veritable tidal wave of reviews and other content, all aimed at drowning out naysayers and skeptics with the best coordinated launch VMware's had in many years.
They needn't have bothered. Even I – a grouchy old git who rarely has anything nice to say about anyone – struggle to find flaw with vSphere 6.0. VMware's engineers should be proud: they won this round on merit, and their sales staff should be looking forward to an easy sell all through 2015.
But let's rewind a little and take a brief look at VMware through 2014, and why this makes vSphere 6.0 such an important release.
VMware in 2014
For those who have been living under a rock, VMware made VSAN generally available in March of 2014. VSAN is VMware's hyperconverged offering: take a bunch of servers with hard drives and SSDs in them and lash them together into enterprise-class shared storage capable of delivering the full range of capabilities that vSphere has to offer.
VSAN is a great piece of technology with an unfortunate history. To be perfectly honest about it, a number of VMware employees have been – ahem – not very nice to competing hyperconverged vendors and their supporters. Some of this hits a little close to home for me; I have good friends at all of the companies in question, and I don't like seeing my friends slinging mud at each other.
Even VMware's body corporate went full douchecanoe on a few occasions. The utter mishandling of PEX 2014 comes to mind as the most prominent example.
If VSAN and VSAN related news dominated the VMware ecosystem for most of 2014, much of the reasoning was fear, disorganisation and yet more fear. The internal politics within the EMC federation (and within VMware itself) have been described to me by dozens of insiders as toxic, vitriolic and even "a thermonuclear wasteland".
What is VMware's position with the EMC federation? Do other VMware partners need to fear VMware "eating its young" and turning on them with the viciousness they went after Nutanix? And what of activist investor Elliott Management's push to see EMC free VMware to compete openly?
Fear, fear and more fear dominated, and everyone held their breath and waited for VMworld San Francisco at the end of August, desperate for answers.
Those answers never came.
VMware basically phoned it in during 2014's VMworld events. While I'm not going to go into details here, I've posted my raw, unedited notes for the interested. The short version is that the most interesting thing to come out of VMworld 2014 was the palpable fear that VMware partners discussed about how terrified they were that VMware was going to destroy their business model.
I chose not to write an article about those events. I passed around the same raw version of my 2014 notes to various people within VMware and I spent months trying to convince people within the company that this was a real issue that VMware had to address. I stopped getting invited to the nice parties.
Yet something changed within VMware. I claim no credit for it – I suspect Nutanix, Elliott Management and several others had a lot more of an effect than myself – but VMware softened. They started patching things up with Nutanix.
VMware changed the tone of how they talked to customers about partners and they slowly unshackled their own sales staff to allow them discuss VMware ecosystem partners that happened to compete with VMware. Even those that competed with VSAN!
Around the middle of November EMC CEO Joe Tucci admitted to that there was "friction" within the federation, saying at the Wells Fargo Tech, Media and Telecom Conference "there is always friction. I think some friction is good. And to be honest, there is more friction than we should have today."
Though my sources tell me that no diktat to play nice with the other children has emerged from on high, this even seemed to signal the beginning of a slow change within VMware. VMware made clear that VSAN competitors can build the kind of kernel integration enjoyed by EMC II's Scale IO, something that had been a point of confusion, especially given VMware's massive marketing campaign against all hyperconverged competitors that were not kernel integrated.
A lot of roadblocks, bureaucracy and bad blood still prevent VMware partners from actually getting on with things (like getting kernel modules certified by VMware, etc), but the words used by partners to complain to me are softer today. The screaming and panic has returned to the dull roar it was in early 2013.
And everyone is absolutely pumped about vSphere 6.0
vSphere 6.0 changes everything, again
As you might have guessed by the previous part of this article, I was not among the chosen few asked to beta test vSphere 6.0. Naturally, I didn't let that slow me down and I have given the beta a right good kicking, but I've held off on the screenshots and demo videos until I get official blessing to play with VMware's toys. Their lawyers get all pouty if you don't get permission for things.
For right now, what I'm going to focus on are the things I expect the average sysadmin is going to actually care about. Assuming I can talk VMware into letting me have a go at the GA version of VMware 6.0, I'll do a far more thorough review in the future.