Know Your Competition: Observations From Structure

I spent the day yesterday at GigaOM’s Structure conference in San Francisco trying to see what my colleagues around the technology world are up to these days. If you have haven’t been to Structure, it’s always a good event – well organized, lots of 20-minute discussions and plenty of networking opportunities. There were definitely interesting nuggets shared from a variety of speakers at the show.

For example, I loved it when Ben Haines, formerly of Pabst Brewing, said he worked for “The Department of No.” I’m probably going to “borrow” that because it’s the reason Embrane is trying to help IT, and particularly the networking team. As I wrote in a recent blog post, Don't Hate the Players Hate the Tools, IT and the networking team need to have the tools at their disposal so they have to stop saying no to requests that require immediate action because they can’t react fast enough.

Then there was the CIO from Clorox, Ralph Loura, who said he’s constantly trying to make IT agile. As he said, his goal is to help IT enable business productivity. He gets it! He knows that if he doesn’t, the business units will go off find someone else to do it. IT loses control when their internal customers go around them to the likes of Amazon. 

(Side note: every IT/Networking team should hear this loud and clear. Whether they realize it or not, if they’re not already competing with Amazon it’s coming. That’s why building an agile data center is critical to them maintaining control of their infrastructure and deciding what goes to the cloud and what stays on prem. But, I digress.)

As someone who is focused on the network, Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and the adoption of cloud technologies, I was really interested in listening to one particular person speak – Pat Gelsinger, CEO of VMware. He’s an excellent speaker and while I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says, he’s an easy listen.

I was, however, a little dismayed at some of his comments around VMware and their position in the networking space. To me, he committed the cardinal sin of Q&A. When asked which companies VMware competes with in the network virtualization space he responded simply: “no one.” Really? No one can or is virtualizing networking functionality? I understand VMware doesn’t want to call it SDN. But, if no one is competing with them, how is it that Embrane just announced several new customers who are using our technology to virtualize network services functionality and has many more on the verge of either announcing and/or going into production? Gelsinger tried to say that companies like Cisco and Juniper, while not competing with VMware, do offer networking products that sit below VMware. I know you have to make your case and you are clearly getting into a market that is very new to you, but to say you’re the only game in town isn’t the best response – at least in my opinion.

Look, VMware has built a great business around virtualizing servers. I have a lot of respect for them as a company and frankly, Embrane and VMware offer relatively complementary technologies that some customers are choosing to deploy in combination. I just think it’s not a good idea to promote a view that you’re the only one delivering a solution. First, it’s not realistic. And, second, if I’m an enterprise or a service provider, I want to know that I’m not locked into one vendor. Competition is good for the customer and if it were me, I would want to know I have options.

Maybe that’s just me.

John Vincenzo