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It's a small VMworld after all – life in the shadow of re:Invent

VMware's event has become the conference of today's refresh cycle, not tomorrow's

VMworld 2017 is nearly upon us. The primary event in Las Vegas taking place August 27-31 will be followed by VMware Europe from September 11-14 in Barcelona.

The first thing to note is that the Vegas sun has thinned the herd. The Solutions Exchange exhibition hall will have fewer booths this year. Vendor after vendor has told me they simply no longer see the returns from the event they used to. Many are not renewing their booths at all, while others are downsizing significantly.

Those reducing their presence seem to fall into one of two categories. The first are smaller startups with only enough money to do one major conference each year. Traditionally, that would have been VMworld, but this year those startups faced with the choice are almost universally choosing re:Invent. Their reason? They go where the venture capitalists are, and belief is that VCs will be more eager at Amazon's gig than VMware's.

The second group downsizing their presence at VMworld are vendors who had been focusing on conference attendance primarily as a means of getting sales leads. For the past few VMworlds, it is claimed, the leads they take home from their booths are largely the same people. A conference booth is a huge investment, and VMworld just doesn't seem to be getting fresh bodies onto the exhibition hall's floor.

That all may sound dire, but seeming isn't being.

VMware resurgent

After several years as a lame duck, VMware is finally, slowly, bringing it. vSphere 6.5 update one is a solid offering, worth being a point release instead of an update all on its own. There are long-overdue goodies for those operating at scale and the HTML5 UI has gone from "something that's not butts" to "a cross-platform management UI years ahead of the on-premises competition".

There has been talk of HTML 5 as the management UI for all things VMware for a while, but during some briefings this year the word "integration" has accidentally slipped from the lips of a few staffers. While it's been made clear that VMware has no intention of building a true "single pane of glass" UI, at least some bodies within VMware have clued into the part where competing against cloudy competitors means reducing the number of management UIs to a sane clutter.

This year's VSAN has proven particularly impressive. If VMware actually has any VSAN announcements left to make at either VMworld, they risk pulling so far ahead of the competition that they trigger a wave of HCI vendor collapses.

App Defence, formerly known as Project Goldilocks, is expected to be discussed in detail at VMworld, with VMware's plans to become a titan of the security industry going from worst-kept secret to something a little more official. What will be publicly discussed regarding App Defence is only the beginning: the next big revolution in tech looks to be isolation technologies, and VMware aims to own that space.

Actual hands-on experience with the newest vRealize versions should start to be a thing around VMworld, with the soft launch of the vROps 6.6 update now some time behind us. I expect to see more applications in the suite get a bump.

There will be much to talk about regarding Photon (PDF). Photon's development cadence is accelerated compared to the traditional once-a-year release, and new features are being added at a rapid clip. Expect this to continue as Photon is one of the keys to VMware's dominance of the isolation-based security market. The other key to VMware's pivot to isolation security, of course, is NSX, which VMware will even be offering as a service.

There may be less of a VMware ecosystem at the year's VMworld, but there's going to be a lot more VMware to love. Slowly, dear readers, we are getting there.

VMworld re:Invented

A few years ago the common joke about VMworld was that it was, in fact, "Storage World". It seemed to be the definitive conference to go to if what you cared about was all things storage. While that may or may not change for 2017, the difference this year is that few seem to actually care, even in jest. With the exception of edge cases, such as extreme scale, storage is no longer a product, it's a feature.

Indeed, the feeling of VMware as the center of a vast ecosystem, king of its particular hill has passed. Amazon is now the reigning sovereign to which all allegiances are due. It is re:Invent that is the must-attend conference of the year, and it is Amazon's ecosystem to which startups are most eager to attach themselves.

VMware has been all too successful in eating its own young. It has cannibalized its own partner ecosystem for ideas so frequently that it is now its own vertically integrated monster. This needn't spell doom for VMware, however, as VMware's role is undergoing something of a transformation.

VMware has become a company that others want in their ecosystem. VMware's bets on hybrid cloud, containers, networking and security are making it a welcome partner, at least until everyone else figures out what they're going to do in those areas.

re:Invent has become the incubator of the future. It is where the future of IT is planned out and the doers of tomorrow meet, greet and dream. VMworld is about the tangible. About VMware and those vendors shipping gear that supports is. Servers you can wrap your arms around. The burning fires that face systems administrators today.

Re:Invent may be where the deals that shape the future of the industry will be taking place for the next few years, but VMworld is still where the technologies that datacenters will actually be using will be announced. This stark divide reflects not only the technologies you'll see, or the announcements that will be made, but the people you'll encounter at the event.

VMworld has become the conference of today's refresh cycle, not tomorrow's. It is a conference of doers and implementers, of those tasked with getting things done. Will you be going? ®

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