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Not at VMworld, but if you are…

by Administrator on August 27, 2018

VMworld strikes me a bit like watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians. It makes a person lose IQ points.

Now, I say this knowing that I will piss off a bunch of folks who think that VMworld is a quality trade show and that I am trash talking their favorite technology vendor.  Some might even correctly assert that I haven’t been to ‘world in a couple of years, and times have changed since it was a gathering of the VMware vendor “ecosystem.”  Like VMware itself, the show has morphed from its original focus on hypervisors, VMware ESX in particular, to a broader view of tech from the cloud to the container.  Maybe.

My beef with VMworld was, initially, a kynote speech delivered by one of the VMware evangelists in years past.  The man took the stage and proclaimed that VMware was not a product, “We are a movement!” 

Very “Tea Party,” I thought to myself at the time. Just like that political movement, there was a lot of nostalgia and BS in the speech.  Oversimplification.  We can fix the problems of server computing by going backwards to a “better time,” like that time depicted in Leave It to Beaver, when children were well behaved and everyone worked and played in accordance with the white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant values that made Amurika great.  It was great for everyone except women, folks of color, the poor, and the gender diverse.  

But I digress.

When it came to storage technology, which was and is my beat, the  Tea Party analogy made sense.  Instead of tackling the core problem that was  driving storage expense — the heterogeneity of infrastructure, vendor incentives to add value (software functionality) to proprietary controllers so they could jack up the price of otherwise commodity kit, and the failure of the industry to come together on any coherent and workable strategy to manage the infrastructure sprawl in a standardized way that didn’t cost vendors a ton of time and money to implement — they pined to return to  a time when a single vendor, in this case VMware, would run the show.  A technological autocracy, similar to IBM with mainframe computing in the 1970s and 1980s.  That would work out fine for the folks who wanted to owe their souls to a single company store, but not for those who embraced vendor pluralism.

When I went to the first or second VMworld, I saw the handwriting on the wall. Of the couple hundred vendor booths at the convention center, I took time to interview a handful of the booth folks – each of whom told me that they were at the event to draft behind all the money VMware was spending on advertising. Asked what they contributed as an “ecosystem” partner, the response from every vendor was the same:  they were fixing something that VMware’s hypervisor was breaking!  I had seen a lot of vendor ecosystems in my day, but never one that consisted of a bunch of gulls circling a great white whale to pick over the leavings.

I decided to beat the Christmas rush and start hating on VMware then and there.  This move was subsequently underscored by their moves with EMC, another fringe tech “movement” that made up for inferior products with a wild-eyed fan base.

I was amused when VMware screwed with EMC by announcing VAAI the first time — a bunch of unapproved primitives added to the SCSI command language to force storage vendors to abide by hairbrained schemes to fix VM performance issues that had nothing to do with storage in the first place. They didn’t even give EMC a heads up about the VAAI extensions!  It was even more amusing when they changed these arbitrary primitives again about a year later, again with no advanced notice to the industry.

Needless to say, I delighted  with a kind of Schadenfreude at the turmoil they created in the industry.  They came up with a compelling, but totally erroneous, metaphor to explain slow VMs and their link to storage:  the IO Blender.  I have covered this elsewhere, but I will summarize it here.  Lots of VMs pushing their data into the same pipe to the same media scatter bits all over the media, randomizing the data so that when it is recalled, there is a noticeable latency created by all the thrashing of the read-write heads.  

Bullshit.  If it ever happened, you couldn’t prove it to me.  In every case I investigated, simple tools showed that slow VMs existed on systems that were showing no queue depth.  (No indication that there was any IO delay at all.)  However, in every case, CPU cycles were high and to the right.  In the real world, not the VMware world, this translated to IO binding at the core, not to queuing at the storage.   So much for the IO Blender Effect.

No one cared, I guess.  Even when DataCore Software came out with a great Parallel IO technology to help fix the problem by parallelizing the IOs emanating from each VM in each logical chip core, achieving screaming fast speeds out of el cheapo VM hosting servers.  The industry just bitched at the Storage Performance Council for letting DataCore share its findings, which demonstrated the ability to get high performance out of gear that wasn’t “enterprise class” or “enterprise cost.”  That was revolutionary.

Eventually, VMware seized on the software-defined storage thing, offering its own strategy — VSAN — for building storage.  This was the ultimate power play, with VMware seeking to define what storage could be used behind VMware hypervisors and selling licenses to the true believers that allowed them to deploy direct-attached  storage with their servers.  Even IBM in its most autocratic moment didn’t do this.    Tell customers what they could deploy then charge them for a software controller license that they could only source from you.  

That was the final straw for me and the final trek I made to San Fran to attend VMworld.  I know that VMware’s fortunes have changed over time and they did need to back away from some of their more exclusionary and cutthroat strategies.  And I am told that, like the Kardashians, VMware has begun to lose some of its ardent fanboys.  But I still choose not to attend.

That hasn’t stopped me from taking briefings from some of the companies that will be attending.  One that I had an opportunity to get to know is StorONE.  The next few posts will feature StorONE, which seems to be hitting the ground running with some truly smart software-defined storage technology.

Stand by and enjoy your show if you are at VMworld.

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