VMware this week had to reassure industry observers that it will not ban competition from the VMworld conference, after bloggers took the company to task for releasing a policy change that appeared to prevent competing vendors from demonstrating products at the virtualization trade show.
Although hosted by VMware, the twice-yearly VMworld has become one of the primary venues for vendors to display new virtualization technology. Even rivals Citrix and Microsoft maintain a presence at the show and have made product announcements the same week as VMworld.
The event's neutrality seemed to be threatened when VMware modified its sponsor and exhibitor agreement, a change detailed in the blog of Brian Madden, who writes about desktop and application virtualization.
Madden quotes the revised agreement as follows: "Sponsors and exhibitors must market or demonstrate products on the exhibition floor and in the sessions which are complementary to VMware products and technologies. Complementary products and services are defined as products/services that do not overlap/substitute with VMware's products/capabilities, and help expand the reach and solution scope of VMware's capabilities solely as deemed by VMware."
Madden argued that this would effectively prevent competitors like Microsoft, Citrix, Neocleus and Virtual Computer from exhibiting at VMworld, which took place in Cannes, France in February and will be held in San Francisco in September.
VMware responded Thursday with a blog post of its own, saying that it never intended to ban competitors and that in fact "Microsoft and Citrix have already signed up and will of course be participating in the conference this year, as well as hundreds of other companies."
"VMware is totally committed to continuing to make VMworld the leading virtualization conference in the world, highlighting the rich, diverse ecosystem that is the virtualization marketplace," VMware's blog post states. "Just to be clear, the exhibitor sponsorship contract we are using is standard across the industry. Nothing out of the ordinary or meant to limit the value of VMworld. ... We encourage companies to exhibit and participate that compete with us in one fashion, but complement us in others."
A VMware spokeswoman reiterated that position in an e-mail to Network World, saying "yes, competing vendors are allowed to exhibit, including exhibiting competing products."
Madden called VMware's clarification "great news," and said that it appears VMware added the language simply to prevent exhibitors from criticizing VMware too harshly.
"At the last VMworld, some sponsors/exhibitors specifically trashed their competition and trashed VMware," Madden wrote in an update after VMware clarified its position. "VMware wanted to prevent that from happening again this year, but they didn't have any text in their sponsor agreement that would let them enforce that."
Bloggers and Twitterers went after VMware en masse until the company clarified its VMworld plans, notes InfoWorld virtualization columnist David Marshall. The outcry in part underscores the importance of VMworld which, as Marshall writes, began as a small trade show focused on VMware's technology but evolved into something much more comprehensive.
Without competition, VMworld - which drew 14,000 attendees to Las Vegas in September 2008 - would be quite sparse, Marshall writes.
"The problem with this newly added legal wording [to the sponsor and exhibitor agreement] is that it is hard to find a company in the virtualization market who doesn't in some way compete with VMware," Marshall writes. "Companies that create their own hypervisor platform immediately come to mind. These are typically VMworld's largest sponsors -- companies like Microsoft and Citrix."
Competing products displayed at VMworld include not just server hypervisors but also desktop and application virtualization technology. Many customers go the show specifically to see what VMware's competitors are up to, Marshall notes.
While VMware's clarification doesn't exactly explain why it changed the wording to its sponsor and exhibitor agreement, it seems to have mostly quieted its critics.
"It sounds like everything is back to normal," Marshall writes.