The Elephant in the Room

elephantIt was flying CEOs all over the stage at VMware’s vSphere rollout Tuesday in Palo Alto. Though the first thing you see these days as you enter is the Cloud word emblazoned on the gateway sign, today’s event was more like “We’re all about the stuff that will make up the cloud real soon now.”

That’s not to say that VMware’s massive upgrade of its virtualization technologies is trivial or unimportant to keeping VMware ahead of Microsoft’s freeware attack. It’s just that calling it a Cloud OS or the foundation of a “private cloud” is the reason so many tech leaders danced on and off the stage.

The first to accept a glad hand from VMware boss Paul Maritz was Cisco counterpart John Chambers, followed closely by Intel SVP Pat Gelsinger, Michael Dell, and EMC CEO and VMware Chairman Joe Tucci. The message was consistent: virtualization can now handle anything that used to be thrown at Big Iron, from compute cycles to big network switches to storage. The cream of the Valley and server vendors from Dell to HP – well, you get the picture. Virtualization is ready to take on the big boys.

But as Maritz and CTO Stephen Herrod viscerally demonstrated in a series of odd flourishes to the huzzahs of the assembled VMware blue shirted multitudes on the lawn outside, just who the big boys are is in play. One demo used some Men in Black Secret Service poseurs charged with protecting the President’s Blackberry to show how resources could be taken offline without disrupting the flow of messages from Dick Cheney, current staffers, and even the White House dog.

Video showed an Olympic torch-like rushing past cheering blue shirts around the world, with a perhaps unintended message being VMware and its partners are middle relay runners with Big Cloud waiting for the handoff when their strategies mature. And of course there was the elephant in the room, a Sun Fire receiving a handwritten sign with IBM crossed out and Oracle added. For a group of industry captains celebrating a serious leap in the power of virtualization, the parochial atmosphere jarred.
Perhaps it was the toppling of Sun in such swift order that sent a shiver up these tough guys’ spines. Talking after the event with the small companies who will build out these private clouds for customers, the sense was that VMware has extracted the best of what the Valley can offer and provided a rational bridge to the broader cloud future. But just as no questions were allowed at the Oracle/Sun analyst call the day before, a promised media conference with John Chambers was abruptly canceled, and Dell literally ran away from one reporter toward the parking lot.