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VMworld Review: VMware Is Focused On Customers’ Needs, Not Its Own

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VMworld 2021 concluded last week. Rob Hirschfeld, CEO and Co-Founder of RackN, joined me to review the event and discuss how VMware continues to build enterprise solutions that are focused on customers’ needs and not its own.


Here is the rough, unedited transcript of the show…

Swapnil Bhartiya: Hi, this is your host, Swapnil Bhartiya, and welcome to another episode of TFiR Let’s Talk. Today we have with us, once again, Rob Hirschfeld, CEO and co-founder of RackN. Rob, it’s great to have you back on the show.

Rob Hirschfeld: It’s a pleasure, the longstanding tradition now with these VMworld shows, and I’m excited to be here to talk about it.

Swapnil Bhartiya: The only difference is that for the last two years is that we used to be there in-person. We would sit down and every night, every evening we will record a wrap-up. But for the two years, last year because of pandemic, it’s like VM Virtual with VMware, right?

Rob Hirschfeld: Virtual conference, virtual machine, all works.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Right. Yeah, and the conference is underway. There’s so much to unravel, there’s so much to talk about. Let’s just start with some major themes that you saw this year.

Rob Hirschfeld: I think people like to underestimate the power of VMware, and VMware really shows up well in these conferences. First, they put on a great show, and that’s always been true of what they do. But their ability to do enterprise software and pull enterprise software together is really outstanding. So while we have a lot of cloud providers doing their own thing, VMware stands pretty unique in their consistent enterprise messaging around building software that is focused on those needs, right, not their own needs as much.

That does come through in these trends. They’re really on-message around multi-cloud, on conformance, on automation. I’ve seen a lot more developer focus trending in the last several years, and that is very true in what I’ve seen out of VMworld across the board in how they talk.

Swapnil Bhartiya: There are two things that caught my attention, and one was the presence of some very, very known faces, Will Smith, Michael J. Fox.

Rob Hirschfeld: They do a really nice job of extending the conference to not just be about tech 24/7. So they have always brought in speakers and made the event something more than just “Let’s talk about virtualization,” or “Let’s talk about VMware products.” All these conferences will highlight vendors and partners doing their thing. VMware’s been pretty consistent in working on some of the human aspects of what they’re building and what they’re discussing, and I give them a lot of credit for that. There, frankly, aren’t very many conferences for enterprise operators and enterprise users of this technology and so it provides a place for people to get grounded, everything from Will Smith to how to make a top-shelf guacamole. With virtual, it’s nice. You can skip it if that’s not your interest. But if you wanted to take a break and relax, that’s definitely something to do.

That’s a big part of what VMworld was always about. Whether you were running after hours or going to the puppy petting, there was a lot to do.

Swapnil Bhartiya: I mean, VMware has been doing so many things in so many different spaces and since next week is going to be KubeCon and, of course, they are doing a lot of work in that space, they have a lot of technology there, Tanzu has been out there, big thing there, so anything that you saw that ties up with the Kubernetes containers?

Rob Hirschfeld: Wow. VMware has made a big commitment around Kubernetes and that was true a couple of years ago, but they have been really following through on those commitments, and using the timing just before KubeCon to get a jump on some announcements and steal some air in the messaging so they don’t have to fight for it during KubeCon. So they had a major release around Tanzu community edition, so really trying to take a lot of these enterprise-y components that they’ve built and make them open source and available, that, to me, speaks to the developer community. I think their enterprise customers don’t feel as incented around the open source pieces, but the front of their pipeline, those developers are, and I think that that’s a big deal.

The other thing I heard a lot of, and I think is really significant, is that they have been embedding containerization very, very deeply into ESX, right, the core of their hypervisor and vCenter, and they are making containers equivalent workloads to virtual machines. In doing that, they’re really making it where the VMware platforms are core platforms for enterprises, and that becomes an edge story. It becomes an enterprise story, it becomes a cloud story, and it really becomes a platform unification story. For them, that’s going all the way down to how they’re building the hypervisor and how they’re releasing their integrated software.

So I have a hat tip to them. They said they would do it, and they’ve been doing it, and I think it adds value to enterprise customers.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Once again, there is so many other things to talk about. One thing that I am personally a bit interested in also from the perspective of TFiR [inaudible 00:05:12] is edge, and when we talk about edge, it’s not about IoT devices. We are talking about edge data centers and far edge devices. Anything that is going on, anything that you saw regarding edge in this event?

They’re talking about edge quite a bit. It’s not clear quite yet how far they’ve delivered on this, but the telco, telco edge and, again, their enterprise edge stories are really, really strong.

So what’s been evolving in edge is that it is very clear that a control plane in edge is critical, and it’s also very clear that virtualization, as part of that controlled plane will also be critical. So what we’re seeing at the edge site is that VMware has a very good story for small footprint virtualization that’s more manageable, and they’re telling that story very convincingly. I think it’s always been there. They’re just focusing on it. And the telco work that’s going on with integrating into radio networks, what’s called ORAN, open radio area networks, those integrations are also moving along very quickly.

Think we still have a ways to go before edge is something that is a actual pattern that people can follow, but they’re clearly investing very heavily there. I think they’re already there much more than people realize because if you’re spinning up an edge infrastructure, putting a VMware cluster in there makes a lot of sense.

That actually spins into another area for them, which is SmartNICs and that’s a Project Monterey, got a lot of buzz last year in what they were doing. SmartNICs has a lot of partnership with Nvidia and Pensando and some other companies. Basically, it’s this idea of putting another computer into the computer, a supervisory machine, SmartNIC, there’s a whole bunch of different names for them, and they have a lot of discussions and announcements about that. This is one of those places where I think it’s going to go slower, but they are still on-track. They’re still talking about it. They still see that it’s very important.

Rob Hirschfeld: The more I do in edge work more generally, the more SmartNIC and edge and then at hyper-scale some of these SmartNICs, today the cost curves are pretty high, but they start creating management and security zones that are really important. We see a lot of that with the networking and security work that VMware has also been doing. It’s all this stuff that is finally starting to connect together.

Swapnil Bhartiya: If you just look at their track teams, they have a very clear [inaudible 00:07:44] of course, multi-cloud is there, security is there, networking, of course, edge is also there. [inaudible 00:07:49] talk about security, we have talked about security earlier, but these days we hear a lot, I mean, early it was more like security is kind of a Windows problem, but that is not the case. Ransomware is increasing. Even Biden administration they had to take some steps on that.

So from security perspective, what do you see? What kind of session they have? Anything that attracted your attention, you sat down and watched that?

Rob Hirschfeld: I’ve seen a lot of different security pieces together, and they’ve made some very strategic acquisitions for security, and as they start stitching everything together, they start having more conformance and compliance. And what I’ve been seeing is the security components that they’re building are becoming part of their vRealize operations.

Rob Hirschfeld: So what they’re actually building together is a more comprehensive solution, which is really the only way the security is going to work, where they can talk about network controls inside and outside of virtual machines, where they can talk, which is which they have components to do, where they can talk about conformance and compliance on machines that are provisioned, where they could talk about threat intrusion and detection. They more than talk about it. They have products in these areas because of the breadth of VMware.

Rob Hirschfeld: What is starting to emerge that I think is even more important is real integrations, and we’re starting to see more places where the products that they’ve built are becoming integrated into the vRealize operation suite. If you’re following VMware closely, you’re going to have a bit of what I would call suite exhaustion, where they keep bundling bigger and bigger things together in suites it’s a whole bunch of products. But what I’ve seen recently is they’re actually doing a pretty good job of slowly integrating those products into more comprehensive tools.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Since you mentioned vRealize, I cannot not talk about VMware cloud foundation as well there. Also, if you look at VMware, of course, they have been around. So a lot of customers that they are attaching to, they also have a lot of legacy infrastructure, legacy workload, and with the VMware cloud foundation, they try to help them modernize. Plus we are also seeing emergence of low-code/no-code because a lot of companies, they do want to move quickly, but they cannot invest resources in building all those teams or wait for years. So what is VMware doing in that respect as well, especially if you’ve seen anything in this year’s event?

Rob Hirschfeld: Wow. vRealize is really becoming a key part of their multi-cloud story and the thing that I think… We say legacy, and a lot of people hear old, bad or not performing, which isn’t true at all. VMware’s strength here is that they have so much legacy history, and the ability for them to leverage tooling that works on their legacy history and cloud history and then the footprints they’ve established in all of the cloud infrastructure really makes it a very powerful story. So as they improve tools around vRealize automation or vRealize orchestration, those integrations then translate into both the next generation, the cloud-native tooling pieces, but they do help lift and migrate what they have.

Rob Hirschfeld: It’s easy to think only about the technology side and how exciting they should be about all the new things, their install base is actually the real story behind making VMware powerful. They do a good job of not leaving them in the dirt, not basically telling them, “Tear up what you’ve got, you’re on your own,” but having some type of transitional story.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Right, and as you were talking about, or we are talking about, low-code/no-code to lower the barrier, and that’s been also… Services play a big role where you don’t have to worry about infrastructures. And as you were alluding to earlier that VMware is also SaaSifying, or if that is the right word, of a lot of their products. What do you see is going on there? Because in today’s world everything has to be a service. Otherwise, that area is way too big and high.

Rob Hirschfeld: That is definitely the trend line that everybody believes that they have to SaaSify their offerings, and VMware, like with the addition of CloudHealth tech, which is a big platform for them from a cost management perspective, has a solid SaaS footprint.

Rob Hirschfeld: I was watching a presentation talking about the SaaS as a service offerings of VMware tooling, and they have a lot of SaaS-only offerings. I think they call it vCenter Universal or vRealize Universal. In those cases, there’s a whole suite of services that you can only consume via a SaaS offering, and what I see happening here… And the global footprint of doing that because the SaaS offerings are relatively regional, they have a really impressive footprint of where those SaaS offerings are available. Because in some cases they’re offering more and more managed VMware services so you can actually have VMware SaaS managing VMware Cloud, even down to something like Outposts where Amazon Outposts now support AWS, or sorry, now support vCenter as a hypervisor.

Rob Hirschfeld: So there’s a lot of things coming in where VMware has followed through on embracing the cloud and the cloud models in ways that if I went back five years, we would have been pretty skeptical about their ability to do that.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Just one thing I want to quickly before we wrap this up is and you’re the best person to talk about, that when we do talk about cloud and cloud-native, of course, there is public cloud, but then there is a… Cloud-native to me is more or less like the be of doing things is not a thing in itself. So when we do look at VMware and we do look at cloud-native, do you know what I mean?

Rob Hirschfeld: I do know what you mean, and I think that the word cloud-native is actually a much better way of thinking about cloud-like infrastructure, so highly-automated, API-driven, very self-service, developer-friendly interfaces, using CICD and infrastructure pipelines to deliver value against infrastructure in an inelastic dynamic way. That’s what cloud has really become, and I do think that we get very focused on the idea that we have Amazon, Google, Azure as cloud.

Rob Hirschfeld: But the reality is there’s a very healthy ecosystem of service providers delivering VMware as a managed service or helping customers run VMware at a global pace. VMware is involved in all of that as a vendor, but now more and more as a service provider. I think that that’s something really important to look, and I can speak from our customer experience. Our customers don’t treat infrastructure in traditional ways anymore. It doesn’t even matter if it’s a bare metal server. They’re treating it as cloud resources today, and it’s really a mentality now that you’ll see in the systems.

Rob Hirschfeld: That, I think, maybe is the simple summary of what VMworld is really about now. They’ve really taken how do you cloudify or treat all of your infrastructure in a cloud-like way to heart, and we’re seeing it show up across the board in all of their offerings. Whether it’s a SaaS offering or something that’s hosted by a hyper-scale provider or people doing it themselves, but getting cloud-like ROIs, we see evidence of all of that in VMworld. That’s a real transition from an enterprise software, enterprise technology perspective and the show is reflecting that this year.

Swapnil Bhartiya: So far, we have been talking to Rob Hirschfeld, [inaudible 00:15:51]. If I ask you from RackN’s perspective, what is there for RackN in VMworld?

Rob Hirschfeld: We’re very excited as RackN to see the progress that VMware is making as an enterprise platform. Our customers use VMware very deeply, the things they’re building on top and the technologies that they’re building are really important.

Rob Hirschfeld: From our perspective, the things that we do are emitted almost entirely from VMworld. So the idea of building robust, resilient infrastructure from bare metal up being vendor-agnostic at that level, and really the whole idea of infrastructure-agnostic automation, they’re really not talking about those things. So there’s a real disconnect for us between all these exciting things they want to sell you from the VMware suite and the operability of the software under the covers and for us, that’s a real gap. We have customers who are very excited about what VMware is doing, but really struggled with the operability of putting that software into the field, whether it’s in data centers, at the edge, or even in cloud.

Rob Hirschfeld: So that is the big thing that we see, and they just don’t spend a lot of time talking about that operability side of the software under the covers. And it’s always made me scratch my head of where those users are and where that conference is, even when the talk comes to SmartNICs. We’re very excited about the applications of SmartNICs, manageability of SmartNICs, which is a much more complex thing than even simple servers. That’s got to be solved before we can really deploy these things at scale.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Awesome. Rob, thank you so much for taking time out today and discuss VMware. I wish we could have done this in-person with a glass of wine or beer depending on your taste, but I think one more year, a few more months and then we will go back to in-person events. So I look forward to our discussions in-person again, but thanks for discussing today and, of course, I look forward to our next conversation. Thank you.

Rob Hirschfeld: It’s a pleasure. Thank you.

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