VMware Explore 2023 Recap: It’s All About Your Data

By Matt Kimball, Patrick Moorhead - September 11, 2023

The 2023 installment of VMware Explore (formerly known as VMworld) took place in Las Vegas last week, and as you can guess the keynotes and talking points centered on AI, the cloud and the edge. Even Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang joined VMware CEO Raghu Raghuram on stage to speak about generative AI (GAI) and the VMware Private AI Foundation toolkit that the two companies are soon to co-launch.

If I were to sum up Explore in one word, it would be data. Two words? Connecting data. From the cloud to the edge to users, Explore was about the VMware portfolio that connects companies’ environments and applications to enable the secure creation, movement and use of data to drive modern business.

Below I’ll share some of the more interesting announcements and my takeaways from the conference formerly known as VMworld.

VMware is the datacenter control plane

My first exposure to VMware came in 2002 when I used VMware Workstation to help execute client testing as a product manager at a Boston software startup. Twenty-one years later, the company has delivered an entire toolchain that manages the datacenter. It’s an incredible story. This company, which started out by virtualizing client sessions, evolved into a full IT services supplier that has continued to advance its tools as datacenter management has moved from bare metal to virtual to cloud to hybrid cloud.

I write all of the above not to wax poetic about VMware, but rather to set up the large amount of news that came out of VMware Explore. Virtualization, edge, cloud, networking, storage, security, ransomware and AI (of course AI)—VMware and its partners had something to say about all of these.

VMware Cloud removes complexity

VMware Cloud is the integration of VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF) software and VMware Cloud Services (VCS). While VCF is the stack that delivers a single unified experience across multiple environments, VCS is the tools that enable the deployment and operations of VCF.

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Because not every IT organization is the same in their cloud adoption, VMware Cloud comes in several editions, from Essentials to Enterprise.

VMware Cloud is tailored to meet customers on their cloud journey

These five editions are consumable in three different ways: customer-managed (on-prem or at a specified colocation facility), VMware-managed (via AWS or Equinix) or partner-managed (via IBM Cloud today, with others to follow).

VMware has found the right number of editions and deployment models for its customers without becoming overwhelming. I expect other major cloud providers to be added to the partner-managed environments list soon. The absence of Azure and Oracle Cloud are noticeable, as these come from two of the largest enterprise software companies.

There are several services built on VMware Cloud that are designed to better connect, power, secure and manage VMware environments:

  • NSX+ is the cloudification of VMware’s NSX product, delivering the connectivity and security of VMware Cloud environments—as a service and from a universal console. My Moor Insights & Strategy colleague Will Townsend dives into NSX+ (and more) in his coverage found here.
  • vSAN Max, which will be available by early 2024, is disaggregated, petabyte-scale storage. vSAN Max removes the need to scale compute as storage needs grow. This should result in considerable savings in both costs and wasted resources. VMware cited a figure of 30% savings associated with database licensing fees.Perhaps more compelling is the resiliency that is built into vSAN Max. In a stretched cluster configuration, vSAN Max can withstand failure at the site level, the host level and even within discrete storage devices.
  • VMware Ransomware Recovery is expected to include a feature that is quite interesting as well. Within the next couple of months, this tool will allow customers dealing with ransomware to shift workloads from on-prem to the cloud while forensics are performed to ensure that the on-prem environment is clean and secure. This enables IT to parallelize operations, allowing the business to keep functioning as it mitigates the impact of ransomware attacks. (My colleague Robert Kramer wrote an overview of Ransomware Recovery last week.)
  • ESXi lifecycle management improvements in vSphere+ will allow customers with multi-vCenter deployments to manage their ESXi environment globally. Any IT pro who has managed updates and upgrades across a distributed environment understands the complexity and cost associated with managing this task. A relatively simple job can take weeks or even months. The ability to cut this down to a few mouse clicks doesn’t just save money. It increases productivity and cuts down on errors.
VMware Cloud Updates

Each major cloud provider (AWS, Azure, Google, IBM, Oracle) has enabled new capabilities for VMware deployments, deepening VMware Cloud support. Likewise, the different server vendors have delivered tuned platforms (such as Lenovo’s ThinkAgile VX) to deliver these new capabilities. This show of partner support best demonstrates VMware’s prevalence (and relevance) in the enterprise.

All major cloud providers announced updates for VMware support

Making the edge manageable

The edge means something different to every organization. VMware’s definition (which I align with) is simple: the edge is the distributed infrastructure where data is generated and used. This is a deceivingly straightforward definition that masks a lot of complexities around deploying, provisioning, connecting, managing and protecting all of the IT elements that are generating and using data.

VMware’s response to this is twofold. First, it works with partners to deliver industry-specific solutions that remove complex work from customers. Second, it provides orchestration tools that enable point-and-click functions.

I like VMware’s approach to delivering industry-focused stacks. Further, the company’s focus specifically on manufacturing, retail, energy and healthcare as the key verticals is the right approach. Each of these industries uses a lot of distributed computing and relies heavily on data to drive operations.

VMware is creating and delivering industry specific edge computing solutions

Managing edge environments can be challenging for IT for a couple of reasons. First, these environments can be incredibly distributed (think of a supermarket chain with many devices deployed in each store). Second, IT organizations typically focused on managing servers, storage and networking are as familiar with these operational technology (OT) based environments.

VMware Edge Cloud Orchestrator (VECO) is the company’s answer to making these edge environments manageable while abstracting the complexity. From connecting to provisioning to securing and updating—VMware is trying to make managing the edge a familiar practice for IT organizations.

It is challenging to deliver a significant analysis of VECO because I haven’t yet had an opportunity to or receive an in-depth demonstration. However, the story VMware is telling about it is spot-on. Further, given the company’s experience in improving IT management, visibility and orchestration across the enterprise, I am confident in VMware’s ability to execute its vision.

VECO brings AIOps to the edge

What this means for enterprise IT

Virtually every IT executive I speak with laments the challenges that impede them from reaching the cloud’s potential. All of the parts of the equation are there, but securely connecting and integrating the entire data estate, from the edge to the multiple clouds to the core datacenter, is difficult. And managing these environments universally seems even more complicated. Because of this, what VMware has been doing in the market is not merely welcomed by enterprises—it’s a vital part of making cloud strategy a reality.

It’s worth noting that the company also made a few announcements around its cloud-native application platform, Tanzu that fit in directly with this vision and are worth digging into. And the company has jumped into the AI game by announcing VMware Private AI Foundation with Nvidia, as well as Private AI Reference Architecture for Open Source. Look for coverage on these topics over the next few days.

My take

As with every VMware conference, it seems almost impossible to capture everything the company and its partners are doing in one short article, and this year is no exception.

I admire VMware’s ability to continuously reorient itself as the enterprise IT landscape evolves. The company has remained a critical part of IT’s datacenter management strategy from the era of virtual workstations to today. More importantly, the company is continuing to make the right moves with its recent announcements and partnerships. These solutions enable customers to realize real-world benefits that begin in IT and extend out to the business. Because of this, I expect I’ll be writing a very similar article in 2024.

Matthew Kimball
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Matt Kimball is a Moor Insights & Strategy senior datacenter analyst covering servers and storage. Matt’s 25 plus years of real-world experience in high tech spans from hardware to software as a product manager, product marketer, engineer and enterprise IT practitioner.  This experience has led to a firm conviction that the success of an offering lies, of course, in a profitable, unique and targeted offering, but most importantly in the ability to position and communicate it effectively to the target audience.

Patrick Moorhead
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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.