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VMworld 2009 contract verbiage causes kerfuffle

VMware inserted some new language in to its VMworld 2009 sponsor and exhibitor agreement that caused some industry insiders to wonder whether the upcoming show will be as hot a destination as in years past.

In a blog post For shame! VMware is now banning competing vendors’ products from VMworld!, desktop and application virtualization analyst Brian Madden highlighted language that states exhibitors and sponsors can only discuss products which are “complementary” to VMware’s, where “complementary” is defined as “products/services that do not overlap/substitute with VMware’s products/capabilities, and help expand the reach and solution scope of VMware’s capabilities solely as deemed by VMware.”

With this move, VMworld will no longer be a “true industry-wide virtualization event” like it has in the past, Madden wrote, but simply “a big rah rah hug-fest.” Madden’s Web site, www.brianmadden.com, is owned by TechTarget.

Not true, said VMware. In a statement, Claire Darling, VMware senior director for corporate marketing said VMworld will continue to highlight “the rich, diverse ecosystem that is the virtualization marketplace.” She said the new exhibitor sponsor contract is “standard across the industry” and that it contains “nothing out of the ordinary or meant to limit the value of VMworld.”

Furthermore, “Nearly a hundred companies, including those with competitive solutions, have already signed up and will be participating in the conference this year,” Darling added, including Citrix and Microsoft. Deposits for booth space are due next week, and VMware will post the exhibitor list sometime in June.

VMworld 2008 attracted over 15,000 attendees and 200 exhibitors, many of whose products could be construed as overlapping with VMware’s.

Madden later wrote a follow-up post, VMware clarifies: “We WILL allow competition at VMworld” but his original post appears to have struck a nerve in the VMware partner community.

“News of the blog got around pretty quick,” said Christian Simko, senior director of marketing communications for VKernel, a provider of virtualization management software for VMware ESX environments, pointing to the large number of comments on Madden’s original post.

Simko said VKernel, which plans to renew its contract to exhibit at the upcoming show, was caught off guard by the language. “We don’t really know how this affects us,” Simko said. “We’re like, ‘Whoa, what does this actually mean?’”

In all likelihood, Simko said the new language wasn’t directed at companies such as Vkernel, but possibly at Microsoft, whose actions at VMworld 2008 raised quite a few eyebrows.

But nor was he surprised by the vehemence of the community’s response to VMware, which has a reputation for developing products that compete directly with those of its partners. For instance, Vkernel’s Capacity Analyzer competes directly with VMware’s forthcoming vCenter CapacityIQ.

But based on last year’s experience, Simko said VKernel is looking forward to the show, even though attendance is expected to be down because of the economy. “It was a great show. I can’t remember a show that had that much buzz the whole time.”

VMworld 2009 takes place from Aug. 31 to Sept. 3 in San Francisco.

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