Today I attended the VMware User Group Conference in King of Prussia, PA., for the second year.  These are always interesting events.

Granted, you can’t put these events on without sponsors, so you have to tolerate salespeople.  This is not a difficult task for most people, or so I hear, but I just can’t stand them.  I want to take a shower after shaking (most of) their hands.

But let’s not allow my salesphobia to ruin an otherwise positive event: there is plenty to see.  After registration, you head to the main room to have some breakfast and see the vendors.  This is also a great time to network, even if it’s just sharing grumbles with some of your fellow VMware users.

GOODIES

Let’s face it:  some of us were there for the goodies.  There was an endless supply of pens, gadgets, yo-yos, product handouts, and business cards.  Every other vendor was giving away an iThis or an iThat.  But you know me – iWon’t.

The vendors scan your badge.  Some of them contact you.  A very few spam you relentlessly.  My advice: look bewildered and frequently repeat that you aren’t a decision maker or can’t afford this stuff.

In all seriousness, this is a good time to check out what’s new for VMware.  As allergic to salespersons as I am, I made a point of stopping at each booth to check out the products and services, evaluating their suitability for my network and business.

All of us were interested in the Drobo, a very intriguing storage solution that is VMware 4 approved.  Picture a small box with slots for raw hard drives.  You can plug in various consumer drives, if you like, and the system will configure them.  One coworker was dazzled by the Drobo demo, which featured video and unplugging hard drives while the video was displaying.  There was no interruption in the video.  They plugged in a different hard drive and the array started rebuilding (video moving right along).  Truly a cool device but not priced for home use ($6k for this model but there are reasonably-priced home units).

DON’T SET IT AND FORGET IT

This was hammered home to me by one of the seminars.  They went over open-source tools and ways to gauge performance/troubleshoot.  One serious drawback to virtualization is that it becomes like a Big Black Box – you can’t really see inside.  You need to watch the system very carefully to monitor resources and for bottlenecks.  The place to start for tools and tips is labs.vmware.com.

There were a number of vendors offering software to let you `peek inside’ the virtual system.  This was my favorite category, as I’m a monitoring nut (amongst other things).

VSWITCHING

VMware already utilizes virtual switching.  Now it can make use of plugin external switching from Cisco.  The capabilities are fascinating.  They are also well above my level and needs.  I dared not ask the cost (if Cisco made popsicle sticks, they’d cost $25 each but they’d be the best damn popsicle sticks you’ve ever used).

RANDOM OBSERVATIONS

  • our VMware consultant sent the men to help us out and saved the women for the booth.  I feel seriously cheated.
  • I left wondering if the virtual Netgear switches were a lot cheaper than the virtual Cisco switches
  • men were everywhere, women weren’t, and sheep were nervous
  • there was a tremendous opportunity to wipe out a serious number of geeks as we were malingering in the parking lot due to a (hopefully unplanned) fire alarm.  They kept telling us not to run.  We kept telling them we only run for chocolate.
  • do not yell PANIC! after a fire alarm in a room full of geeks – they will only ignore you.
  • large video displays with lots of information are geek-magnets
  • one will not meet Hollywood casting agents at VMware conferences
  • for the first time in my experience, Verizon was useless and T-Mobile was great
  • Otis Spunkmeyer makes some serious chocolate chip cookies

If you use VMware in the enterprise (or hope to), don’t miss this free event.