VMware says Microsoft 'shenanigans' led to new VMworld restrictions

VMware defends its decision to cut down competition at VMworld

VMware has defended its decision to place new restrictions on sponsors and exhibitors at this year’s VMworld conference, blaming the move on “shenanigans” pulled by Microsoft at last year’s VMworld in Las Vegas.

One year ago, Microsoft handed out casino chips directing VMworld attendees to a Web site titled “VMware costs way too much.” At the time, Microsoft was a “gold sponsor” of VMworld. But at this year’s show in San Francisco Microsoft is no longer a sponsor and claims that new VMworld rules prevent it from exhibiting the latest version of System Center Virtual Machine Manager on the show floor. Citrix has made similar complaints.

But new VMworld policies are based on industry-standard contract clauses, and Microsoft has only itself to blame, says Ben Matheson, senior director of alliance marketing and global campaigns for VMware.

“We’ve had to [change VMworld policies], to be quite honest, because of some of the shenanigans that our partners pulled last year, which we considered to be in pretty poor taste,” Matheson said during an interview at the conference this week.

Matheson specifically referred to Microsoft’s casino chip ploy, and claimed that Microsoft representatives were kicked out of the Venetian casino, where the conference was being held, because the giveaway violated a Vegas rule against giving away poker chips. The chips were reportedly authentic $1 Venetian chips in a package that said “Looking for your best bet? You won’t find it with VMware.”

“A sense of humor’s good,” Matheson says, “but it’s more of a concern of what length are they willing to go? And at our own event, which is meant to support VMware and our ecosystem of partners, do we really want them going to the next extreme? Who knows what they’re going to do next?”

This year, VMworld did not allow vendors to sponsor the show or occupy the larger booths on the exhibition floor unless they are members of VMware’s Technology Alliance Partner program. Citrix and Microsoft were thus limited to ten-foot-by-ten-foot booths.

VMware also introduced new language in its sponsor and exhibitor agreement, which seems to outlaw vendors from exhibiting products that compete against VMware. The language reads 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.”

Back in May, a VMware spokeswoman denied that the language is intended to restrict competitors, saying “competing vendors are allowed to exhibit, including exhibiting competing products.”

Nonetheless, Microsoft and Citrix decided not to exhibit competing products at VMworld, and comments from Matheson this week indicate they may have made the right choice.

“If they want to show complementary technologies, products that work with VMware, they’re allowed to do that,” Matheson said.

When asked if he considers Microsoft’s System Center Virtual Machine Manager to be “complementary” to VMware, Matheson responded: “I think it depends on what they’re going to showcase.”

VMware says that Microsoft places identical limitations on vendors at their own conferences.

“It’s a standard piece of contract language,” Matheson said. “We’ve looked at their contracts and it’s the same exact verbage that they use.”

Network World asked Microsoft for its own sponsor and exhibitor contract language last week and this week, but the company did not provide it. Microsoft also declined to respond to Matheson’s claim that Microsoft officials were kicked out of the Venetian last year for handing out poker chips.

Citrix denies that VMware’s new policies are standard and used its official company blog to publicly invite VMware to sponsor its Synergy 2010 conferences next year.

AT VMworld this week, Citrix officials spent their time giving away T-shirts with slogans such as “Got Xen?” and “You can’t lock Xen in a 10X10.” The company exhibited an in-development desktop hypervisor on the show floor, but not its flagship XenServer virtualization product.

Microsoft mainly used its booth to promote various virtualization-related Twitter accounts, answer questions from customers, give away high-speed USB hubs and hold a contest for a Microsoft Zune giveaway.

Numerous customers asked to see demos of System Center, but were instead directed to online resources to get information, Microsoft technical product manager Edwin Yuen said. Microsoft also did not host any sessions at this year’s show, Yuen said.

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