Last year was the show's 10th anniversary, and VMware pulled out all the stops to entertain and educate us. So what then does the virtualization giant have in store for us this year to try and top last year's event?
To find out more, I spoke with Karen Steele, vice president of corporate marketing at VMware, and received some inside scoop on the upcoming event.
[ Watch live coverage from VMblog during VMworld 2014 on the Events page ]
VMblog: VMworld has a tagline this year of "No Limits," can you give us some background on what this means? What's the thought behind it?
Karen Steele: We chose the theme of "No Limits" to capture the opportunity at hand for our attendee audience. The Mobile-Cloud era has arrived-and it's all about software. Software that empowers IT to break down walls, demolish barriers, and reveal the opportunities ahead. Software that's already making IT more capable, more accessible, more reliable-and delivering real results.
At VMworld 2014, we will provide opportunities for attendees to explore VMware's complete portfolio of tools and technologies for automating virtualized data centers and extending them to the cloud. Attendees will discover how they can deliver apps efficiently and provide secure virtual workspaces. Attendees will also have the opportunity to gain insights from organizations like their own while also accessing a vibrant ecosystem of partners and industry experts to help understand how to redefine IT with software. We are excited to host VMworld 2014 under this banner theme!
VMblog: This is the world's largest and longest running virtualization event. And sometimes, people don't have an appreciation for what goes on behind the scenes. Can you explain what goes into establishing content for an event of this size?
Steele: There is clearly a lot of creativity, operational expertise and "elbow grease" that goes into hosting VMworld each year.
For example, let's explore the session development process... VMworld has a stringent content development process. We start with a public Call for Papers for breakout session topics in March. This year we received a record number of submissions - more than 1500. The submissions are then evaluated and voted on by a pre-selected team of more than 100 VMware, customer, and partner subject-matter experts. We also have a public voting system akin to "thumbs up" functionality where we receive tens of thousands additional votes. Top scoring sessions within each track or topic area are selected. Our team then publishes a content catalog and schedule builder for each program. (Fast Fact: There are more than 32,000 pieces of meta-data on the VMworld agenda) and work with more than 600 speakers to prepare and finalize the outstanding content for the event. As you know, the conference also offers Group Discussions, Hands-on Labs, 1:1 Meetings with Experts, certifications, booth demonstrations and more. There's no shortage of learning opportunities at VMworld.
VMblog: VMware celebrated the show's 10th year anniversary last year, and had a record number of attendees. How many attendees are you expecting this year? And how do you top last year's event?
Steele: VMworld is looking forward to welcoming 23,000 attendees to San Francisco. 2013 was a big celebration for VMworld and this year will be another great year. The theme "No Limits" will be integrated into many of the experiences planned for attendees - from the opening of the General Session on Monday morning through to the VMworld party where we welcome the Black Keys.
VMblog: And what are you most excited about in preparing for this year's event?
Steele: As the event continues to grow each year, we need to constantly challenge ourselves to keep the event fresh and innovative, while ensuring we continue to meet the expectations and needs of our attendees. This year is particularly exciting to see how our audience is growing - not only in numbers, but in breadth of attendee roles. It is also great to see how many more of our customers have stories to share about how they have actually transformed their businesses and the benefits they are realizing from a software-defined architecture.
VMblog: We know companies still have a firm grip on trade show budgets. But if those companies have VMware installed in their data center, what are some of the reasons they should loosen up the purse strings and send employees to the show in 2014?
Steele: VMworld 2014 brings together thought leaders, subject matter experts, and IT professionals to immerse themselves in the latest in data center transformation, virtualization and cloud technology - the vision, the leading products, the use cases, the interactive sessions with practical how-to tips and use cases, all under one roof.
Attending VMworld will provide:
- In-depth training and hands-on experience. Attendees will be able to choose from more than 350 technical and content-rich sessions and labs covering the latest in virtualization innovations in the data center for storage, networking, security, management, workforce mobility and hybrid cloud services.
- Product research and analysis. In the Solutions Exchange, attendees will be able to review the latest competitive solutions side-by-side with more than 275 sponsors and exhibitors.
- Networking with industry experts. Attendees will learn strategies for achieving our top IT priorities and be able to compare notes with other IT professionals.
VMblog: VMware has built up a fantastic partner ecosystem over the years. And the exhibit hall is always packed with partners showing off their latest technologies. How many exhibitors will be in the expo hall this year?
Steele: We're expecting more than 245 partners to showcase their products and solutions in our Solutions Exchange this year.
VMblog: Thinking about the hands-on-labs component of VMworld... have the number of hands-on sessions grown this year? And can you talk about the technology that is powering them or what we can expect this year from hands-on labs?
Steele: The Hands-on Labs component of VMworld is always a fan favorite. This year the Hands-on Labs team has added an additional expert-led Workshop room to accommodate the high demand exhibited last year. One of our most exciting expert-led workshop additions is the AirWatch workshop.
VMware Hands-on Labs at VMworld 2014 will be running the latest and greatest infrastructure stack on the back-end, including NSX, vSphere 5.5 and VMware cloud technologies. Our infrastructure monitoring team uses vCenter Operations Management and Log Insight to gain a real-time view of performance which enables them to correct small issues before they become big problems. We are pleased to offer 47 new self-paced labs with hundreds of hours of new and exciting content. In addition to updated versions of the VSAN, Horizon, and NSX labs, we will be featuring hands-on access to currently unannounced and unreleased technologies, including some labs that will be available exclusively at VMworld. This year we are pleased to feature even more labs created by our partners, showcasing solutions involving tight integration of VMware and partner technologies.
We also have added NEW focus areas to the Hands-on Labs experience. The focus areas will allow for groups of like-minded attendees to easily share best practices while taking a deeper dive into a Self Paced lab. No sign up is needed for these focus areas, as they are first come first serve.
As always, VMware product experts will be on hand to answer any questions around the products used in a lab, focus area or expert-led Workshop.
VMblog: For those VMware users who can't make it to San Francisco this year and be at the show in person... Is there anything online they can stay in touch with to participate in VMworld remotely?
Steele: Absolutely! We'll be live streaming the general sessions on Monday and Tuesday. You just need to go to www.vmworld.com to learn more. Additionally, we make all of our session recordings available to our registered attendees after the show - we encourage them to share them with colleagues and peers who were unable to attend the event. One thing of note is that we've invested in new technology to help us make those recordings available more quickly. Instead of waiting weeks to see them, they'll be available in just a few days after the event. And lastly - stay engaged on social channels to hear the daily buzz and learn about additional resources. Besides all the traditional social channels which will be bustling with information during the show, we've got hashtags for each and every session at the conference and our presenters love to continue the learning. Be sure and check them out.
VMblog: Finally, I know VMworld attendees are an outspoken bunch. Did you receive any feedback from last year's event questionnaire that you've incorporated into the show this year?
Steele: We are thrilled with the level of response we get from attendees each year - both in response to individual activities (such as general sessions, breakout sessions and labs) and to our overall, post-event survey. We invest in very thorough analysis and reporting of all of this information. Summarized results are shared throughout the company and are reviewed by our most senior executives. This information is extremely helpful to us in evaluating what is working for our attendees and identifying areas for improvement. We review the previous year's session surveys again each year as we begin our content planning.
General session surveys provide great information about what our audience expects to hear from our executives, which announcements and product updates are most exciting or relevant to them, and what they think about our company direction. In 2013, we did some additional research with a subset of VMware customers who attended our event in San Francisco. Our goal was to better understand how our attendees prepare for VMworld, find and identify the sessions and activities they want to participate in, and what they think about the tools we provide leading up to and during the event to help them in this effort. We had strong participation and the results were illuminating. Customers told us what was working for them and offered many ideas for how to improve their experience. With that information, we made several changes to our content program and supporting tools, including new session filter tags, new wait list functionality for sessions, and enhanced features in our session content catalog and schedule builder, just to name a few. We've also changed how and what we communicate to registrants prior to the event - especially to first-time attendees.
We'd love it if every single attendee told us what they think, because it is important to us to continue to improve their VMworld experience.
A special thanks to Karen Steele of VMware for taking time out to answer a few questions, and to provide us with some insight and behind the scenes information about the upcoming VMworld event.