The New England Area VMware User Group meeting at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, was well attended, despite the frigid weather.
The New England Area VMware User Group (VMUG) meets quarterly, receives a lot of support from VMware and VMware partners, and is growing rapidly. By my estimates, there were 600 attendees, up from 60, only four years ago, and user attendance was very heavy. Sponsoring vendors got 2 1/2 hours of uninterrupted access to customers before the "program" kicked off. Traffic was heavy and I heard lots of good questions from existing and potential customers about what is and is not possible in a VMware environment. There were both big fans, and vocal critics.
VMware User Benefits
I heard a number of great stories about the ease with which the initial VMware installation progressed. Windows systems administrators with no prior virtual server training stated that implementation was simple.
VMware also received high praise from a mid-sized bank that has implemented triple-site fail-over. Application restart times were as short as 15 minutes, according to their VMware administrator.
Seemingly everyone, from small secondary schools to large corporations, talked about plans to implement Virtual Desktop, looking to eliminate the cost and complexity of managing, repairing, and deploying the desktop. The common theme was, "You shouldn't lock down everything that users do at their desktop, but you do need something like Virtual Desktop to quickly repair the self-inflicted damage users cause."
VMware User Concerns
There was a lot of discussion regarding backup and data protection in VMware environments. There was also a little bit of discussion regarding performance issues in VMware, particularly around database and Exchange applications. During the keynote address, Jaleh Rezaei, a VMware ESX Product Marketing Manager said, "If an application has to be managed carefully in a non-virtualized environment, it has to be managed carefully in a virtualized environment."
Some users also complained about the high price and were actively looking at alternatives such as XEN and Virtual Iron.
There appears to be a big focus on virtualizing the desktop, short term. VMware is expanding Virtual Desktop to include more capabilities around preserving user "personalities and preferences" in the user profile that contains applications and data, and separating that from the hardware/OS layer. They are also adding capabilities for fault tolerant virtual servers, virtual security appliances, and virtual networking appliances. VMware is also bringing out Virtual Data Protection with a VMware backup product they describe as perfect for the low-end, but without all the bells and whistles of a large-enterprise backup solution.
Some partners expressed quiet concern about VMware direction, meaning they fear VMware will subsume their functionality into VMware. One example is the low-end backup just mentioned. Not surprisingly, some VMware partners are concerned that VMware will move up into more enterprise backup function that will compete with solutions like Networker and NetBackup.
On the other hand, many partners say that the VMware Virtual Appliance Marketplace has been huge boost for their business. An example is Certeon, which provides WAN acceleration as a virtual appliance.
VMware Virtual Center
User response to VMware Virtual Center was quite varied. I spoke to some application software developers at a multinational systems company who use VMware ESX mostly for test and development. They said Virtual Center is not enterprise class. They also said that licensing for applications was very loose, and it was difficult and extremely costly to stay in compliance on application software licenses. As a company concerned about litigation, they are concerned about compliance with license provisions and the complexity of managing licenses.
On the other hand, I spoke to a mid-sized New England regional bank that runs VMware ESX for production applications. Their IT manager reported that Virtual Center is great and gave them all the information they needed to manage their virtual infrastructure across three locations.
And with another approach, a major law firm said it uses Virtual Center and three other applications, including Akorri and Tek-Tools, to manage its VMware environment. In short, opinions are all over the place.
New Companies to Watch
Among new companies to watch, I found Replicate. The company is founder-funded, and provides an intelligent rules engine for VMware configuration management compliance. Over time, Replicate may be viewed as an Onaro, now NetApp, competitor, and states that it could integrate with a configuration management database (CMDB), that would substantially improve IT governance and compliance.
Another company, which has been around a bit longer, but which is receiving a lot of attention is Panologic. They replace the desktop with a small box (approximately $200), into which you plug a monitor and keyboard.
Next VMUG Meeting
The next New England Area VMUG will be in Newport, Rhode Island on April 30, 2009. Details are available at: VMUG New England.
Action Item: VMUG is a must-attend event for companies considering server or desktop virtualization. While funded by the vendors, the attendees are largely IT professionals, and are clearly there to provide support and advice to each other.
For suppliers, this event provides tremendous access to IT professionals who are currently managing or are considering deploying virtual server and virtual desktop environments. The event is professionally run and well-attended.
Footnotes: See more resources for entrepreneurs and investors at John's Blog