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VMworld attendees demand, but don't get, vSphere details

VMworld Europe attendees want to know about vSphere, the next iteration of Virtual Datacenter OS, but VMware CEO Paul Maritz was wasn't forthcoming at his 'VMware Unplugged' session.

CANNES -- VMware customers want to know when to expect vSphere, the next incarnation of the VMware platform, and how much it will cost. But VMware CEO Paul Maritz was not forthcoming at the "VMware Unplugged" session at VMworld Europe on Wednesday.

For more VMworld Europe coverage:
VMware's Maritz touts vSphere as 'software mainframe'

Users to VMware: Where's the VDC-OS beef?

VMworld Europe 2009 conference coverage
At the Q&A session, customers wanted to know about pricing and availability, licensing, support, expansion outside of North America, and, of course, competition with Microsoft and Citrix Systems. But some attendee questions remained unanswered.

VMware cagey on vSphere details
As for timing on vSphere, the next generation of the Virtual Datacenter Operating System, Maritz dodged the question. It will be out "sooner rather than later," he said. Industry consensus is that vSphere will release in the May or June timeframe. Maritz said he was "embarrassed" to be evasive and that he hoped the company would eventually become more "predictable and transparent."

"I apologize for being mealy-mouthed right now," Maritz said, attributing the company's reticence about product availability to accounting regulations enacted after the Enron scandal. Ultimately, Maritz said he would prefer an annual release model that alternates between major and minor versions. That would help enterprise customers plan for their VMware purchases in advance and obtain the necessary budget.

VMware's new approach
On vSphere pricing, Maritz also signaled VMware might revise the way it licenses its products. "There's a very large range of needs [vSphere] needs to meet," Maritz said, from large enterprises to small and medium-sized businesses, and the company is exploring "new options that meet the needs of different customers."

One way VMware might do that is to move away from per CPU licensing. With virtualization, "the CPU socket disappears in to the fabric ... and disturbs licensing policy," Maritz said. "As an industry, it's something we're going to have to come to grips with. The tide is coming in."

Several attendees asked about VMware's presence and support in the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) region. Maurizio Carli, EMEA's general manager, noted that international growth outpaced North America's in 2008 and that the company had approved a business plan to invest significantly in emerging markets such as Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Going forward, EMEA customers should also expect to see VMware products, documentation and training localized in local languages. VMware will also work with partners by enabling them to do business in local currency and not just U.S. dollars, Carli said.

Maritz echoed Carli's comments. "VMware is making the efforts to become a much more international company," he said. "We have to cease to be, as I say euphemistically, an Anglo-Saxon company."

Support, Linux -- VMware's soft spots
One customer griped about the length of time it takes to get a support ticket resolved. Newly installed Chief Operating Officer Tod Nielsen said the company was aware of the situation and had made improving customer support a top priority. To that end, VMware recently hired Scott Bajtos to be the new senior vice president of global support services. He previously overhauled support at SAP and Cadence.

Customers also wanted an indication that VMware would address Linux and Macintosh environments. Scott Herrod, VMware's CTO, reminded attendees that the company recently released a version of its vCenter Server for Linux and that it is working on Java-based VI client code that could run on mobile devices like the iPhone, to allow administrators to manage their virtual infrastructure remotely. Furthermore, the company hopes to make most of its management interfaces Web-based, Maritz said.

And while Maritz said VMware "is committed to making Linux a first-class citizen," the company has no plans to add support for Unix systems that run on RISC chips. "We are completely focused on the x86 market, and have no intention to virtualize other OSes," Herrod said.

What about Microsoft and Citrix?
Despite the executives' frank discussion of VMware's faults and foibles, it gave no ground to Microsoft and Citrix. Maritz was dismissive of Citrix's decision to give parts of XenServer away for free. "I think the announcement speaks for itself. When you give something away for free, you're not coming from a position of strength," he said.

Maritz expressed respect for Microsoft as a competitor [Maritz is a former Microsoft executive that helped ship, among other things, Windows NT]. But he also emphasized VMware's technical lead and underscored the significant resources the company is spending on R&D. VMware employs 2,000-plus engineers -- which is more manpower, Maritz pointed out, than Microsoft ever committed to a single operating system release while he was at the company. VMware will spend $500 million in R&D in 2009.

When it bought Connectix in 2002, Microsoft started down the road to virtualization and "is only now beginning to catch up to where we are with VI3 [Virtual Infrastructure 3], which is a 3-year-old product," Maritz said. Further, "we're about to take a significant step ahead with vSphere," and "even with Microsoft's resources, [building an enterprise-class virtualization platform] is not trivial."

At the same time, with a competitor as formidable as Microsoft, "you can't afford to rest on your laurels," Maritz said. "If we get fat and dumb and happy and start thinking we have a lead that can never be closed, we won't be happy."

Check out the rest of our VMworld Europe news coverage.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Alex Barrett, News Director. And check out our Server Virtualization blog.

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