Think of one of your favorite bands. Odds are that when they first hit the scene they were brash, unapologetic, and reached stardom at an unthinkable pace. Then what happened? If they’re like some of my favorite bands, they got rich, “matured,” and lost touch with what got them to reach their early success. They then spent their remaining days playing their early hits to a devoted audience. Or they break up.

Remind you of VMware, or other disruptive technology vendors? I ask because here we are a week before VMworld, and I’m wondering if the predictable VMware will show up – you know the one that plays the hits and caters to its base – or will we see something brasher?

My money is on the older, richer, more conservative VMware. Wearing my customer hat, I’d love to be wrong. Ten years ago VMware didn’t care who it offended. Along the way server hardware vendors had no choice but to partner with them even though VMware was screaming from the rooftops “With us, you’ll need less servers!” Now think about VMware’s 2013 push around the software-defined data center (SDDC). You know what word isn’t in SDDC? Hardware.

If VMware wants to really get the SDDC to take off, it needs to rediscover its inner rebellious teenager – the one that got it to where it is in the first place. Consider successful public cloud service providers such as AWS. Amazon’s stack places a premium on software and sees hardware as a commodity. Yet VMware is pushing a software-defined data center mostly on top of enterprise-grade hardware from its partners. How do you get to be cost competitive with AWS when you place a premium in the entire stack while Amazon only places a premium in software? You don’t. And if VMware and its partners believe it’s possible, they’re fooling themselves. Take a look at the VMworld 2013 Global Diamond Partners. They have one thing in common (Hint: It starts with “hard” and ends with “ware”). So in the end, the graduation party for the SDDC is primarily sponsored by hardware vendors.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that you can get rid of the enterprise hardware in your data centers – certainly not yet. But there is increasingly less of a need to build a virtual and physical infrastructure around the greatest common denominator – the tier 1 workload. That’s great for the vendors but not so great for your bottom line. Down the road I expect several of our clients to look at alternative lower cost technologies for less critical workloads. VMware needs to look at offerings with lower price points and perhaps a lower SLA that clients can use for less critical workloads. This is an area where competitors will attack VMware and try to get a foothold in the enterprise data center. VMware needs to show greater flexibility in how it offers choice to customers. One size doesn’t fit all. VMware needs to be more outspoken about lower cost architectures, even if that offends some of its high-end enterprise hardware vendor partners. Ten years ago, VMware was aggressive and unapologetic. It was a company that was passionate about helping its customers save money while also thriving.

In the process of becoming a “big company,” VMware lost its inner voice. VMware needs to remember what got it to where it is today. It wasn’t just great technology, but also an attitude where it put its customers first. It can continue to grow by thinking beyond how a typical large company should act. Give customers greater flexibility. Hold their hand and help them make smarter choices regarding their data center investments. Show them how to build a private cloud and SDDC where all of the value is in software. If VMware truly wants its SDDC vision to succeed, it’s going to have to learn to make some enemies and remember that if it keeps the focus on its customers, it will thrive in the end.

So VMware, do you have another hit in you? Or will we hear the same old songs that will surely make your hardware partners happy? SDDC has plenty of potential, but only if you let it all out. Sing a great song about how your clients can truly build a software-defined data center. Tell them how they can build low cost solutions with VMware software. Show them all the benefits of software-defined infrastructure even if the chorus is something that your hardware partners don’t want to hear. Your clients didn’t come to VMworld to hear Nickelback. They deserve better.


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