Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Why Customers Don't Speak at VMUGs

The muggle quadrant.
I saw an interesting question posted on Twitter last week by Scott Lowe. To paraphrase: why don't users volunteer to speak at VMUGs? (He has a great post that you should read to see what he's doing about this.) Scott's question got me thinking about my experience with the Maryland VMUG, and I'd like to share an observation on why I think most customers aren't eager to step up and grab the mic.

VMware is streets years ahead of most of its customers.

VMware is forging ahead with its technology and continues to lead the compute, storage, and network virtualization space. The company needs to set the pace to keep its competitive advantage. VMware geeks like me eat up new VMware technologies faster than we can refresh our Twitter streams. But what about the actual users of the software? Where are they?

In my time with Chesapeake NetCraftsmen, I had the opportunity to visit many, many sites that were in various stages of deploying VMware products. Federal, healthcare, commercial, financial... all using VMware. But were they using the latest and greatest innovations? Of course not. In some cases, they were using 4.0 ESX. Some were using stand-alone ESXi hosts because they didn't need the protections offered by a cluster. Some were using 4.1 ESXi and didn't see a reason to change what was working. But the common theme was that many customers, especially the SMB segment, were still working on their first or second implementation of vSphere.

Now keep in mind that it's typical for a VMUG meeting to include a technical marketing session for a vendor or two. (And this is good! Someone has to pay for that delicious food!). These presentations are GREAT for VMware geeks, because we get some face-time with smart people, and can ask good questions to learn something new. But can you blame a customer, who is trying to figure out how to build a cluster or work with a vDS, for not wanting to follow a cutting-edge presentation? Even if you don't know what you're doing, you know when you're behind.

Again, I understand that VMware can't afford to sit still; look what's happening to BlackBerry this week. VMware needs to innovate and drive their business forward. I think we all understand that. But don't be surprised when many of their customers fall farther and farther behind as the gap between innovation and implementation widens.

A Possible Solution

What if, once a quarter, we could have a VMUG meeting without vendors? Just VMware users in a group. No intimidating presentations on server-side caching, or vCAC integration, or anything that's too far out from where most users are. Instead, just a few hours of customers talking about their progress, their successes, and if they are willing to share, their failures. I suspect we'll foster some great discussion amongst peers, and maybe even solve a problem or two in the process.