In-Depth

How To Get the Most Out of VMworld 2017

There's so much to do, see and learn at VMworld. Here's your guide to navigating the show.

Every August is exciting to me for many reasons. First, August signifies the end of NFL training camp, meaning we're just a few weeks from a new NFL season kicking off. Second, Aug. 8 is my birthday, and I'm not old enough to dread it yet. And last but not least, August means VMworld, the biggest virtualization conference in the world.

VMworld generally goes back and forth between San Francisco and Las Vegas, with this year's show landing in the latter. From Sunday Aug. 27 through Thursday Aug. 31, the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Convention Center will be transformed into a virtualization forum unrivaled throughout the world. Some of the greatest minds in virtualization, security, mobility, end-user computing, storage and more will convene in Las Vegas for a week of knowledge sharing, networking, speaking and partying.

It's exciting, but can be overwhelming, especially for a first-time attendee. What should you expect from VMworld this year? What new products will be launched? Will a new startup steal the show? Which vendors will have can't-miss booths on the Solutions Exchange floor? As I write this several months out from the show, it's hard to say "XYZ will absolutely happen," but I'll explore some possibilities and also provide some tips for squeezing the most fun and learning out of this year's show.

WHAT TO EXPECT: SOME KEY VENDORS
Dell Technologies
This year marks the first one that Dell Technologies will be on full display at VMworld. I expect Dell EMC to have a huge booth, with lots of interaction for attendees. The keynote address for the first General Session, which will likely include both VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger and Dell Technologies CEO Michael Dell, should spotlight how VMware has benefited from being part of the world's largest privately owned technology company.

With the merger wrapping up in September 2016, Dell Technologies is now comprised of numerous companies, including Dell, Dell EMC, Pivotal, RSA, SecureWorks, Virtustream and VMware. This merger has positioned Dell Technologies to potentially be the technology leader in 20 Gartner Magic Quadrants. Expect each of the companies that comprise Dell Technologies to have a presence on the Solutions Exchange floor this year, with the spotlight naturally focused on VMware and Dell EMC.

Veeam Software
I've been to six VMworld shows, and each time Veeam is near the top of my list for most impressive booths, staff and demos. VMworld is all about getting your hands on the latest-and-greatest technology, and interacting with the technical staff working the booth. And Veeam always has a huge booth that's hard to miss with its bright-green displays that usually have some sort of motion involved.

The star of the show for Veeam this year may be its Veeam Availability Suite v10. It's a platform that offers enterprise continuity, cloud data management, compliance and visibility. Veeam Continuous Data Protection leverages the vSphere APIs for IO Filtering (VAIO) to give a recovery point objective of 15 seconds for virtual machines (VMs), without using snapshots. Version 10 has brought availability orchestration, an availability console and Veeam Cloud Connect, which will streamline backup and recovery of cloud-based workloads.

The Server Bunch: IBM and HPE
Expect both IBM and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) to have a big presence in the Solutions Exchange. We can't talk about VMware without mentioning the server hardware that it hitches a ride on, and both IBM and HPE have been leaders in server hardware for years now. The reason they're a spotlight vendor and not just another face in the crowd is because of the shifting way we consume IT.

The hyper-convergence vendors are taking the virtualization world by storm. Vendors such as Nutanix and SimpliVity (bought by HPE in January) are becoming an easy sell to organizations all over the world, both in the small and large enterprise space.

HPE offers its Hyper Converged Systems line of hardware to compete with other hyper-convergence vendors. Its HPE Hyper Converged 250 offers enterprises the ability to consolidate four nodes running ESXi in one 2U chassis.

The HPE Hyper Converged Operating Environment allows administrators and developers alike to manage and maintain the environment from a single pane of glass. While vCenter offers the same "single pane of glass" capability, HPE Hyper Converged Operating Environment allows users to create unique workspaces that can be created not only for individuals, but projects, teams or workgroups to manage. With the addition of a self-service portal, HP provides users the ability to provision additional capacity, on-demand VMs and dynamic, recomposing VMs with a few simple clicks.

WHAT TO EXPECT: SESSIONS
VMworld 2017 will showcase a ton of sessions: at least 500 breakout sessions led by experts in the field, many General Sessions and lots of spotlight sessions that include VMware executives sharing specific roadmap items and answering questions related to the company's direction. If you plan on attending the show this year, expect to pick a session track; there are seven to choose from, each with several sub tracks. Let's take a look at each of the session tracks and highlight some of the sessions I expect to be among the best all week.

Top Session Tracks
The one session I would expect to be a "can't miss" session would be the day-one keynote address with Pat Gelsinger. I always expect there to be big news coming out of that keynote. This is the session where major new product releases are announced, along with key upgrades and new versions of existing products. Gelsinger's keynote is always an electrifying kickoff to VMworld.

Beyond the keynote address, I want to point out some of the more interesting sessions and how they'll spotlight things to come with VMware both from an internal and third-party perspective. Although there are the aforementioned tracks you can follow at this year's show, feel free to jump around some; you're not required, of course, to be tied to a single track. Here are some tracks I expect to be among the best.

Modernize the Datacenter
I expect this to be the hottest track at VMworld 2017; it will likely contain the sessions with the deepest dives and present the most technically focused information at the show. This includes VMware's software-defined storage technology, VSAN.

Looking at some of the key sessions in the "Modernize the Datacenter" track, you can see the trend I'm talking about. There are three sessions alone in this track that focus on VSAN, which should give you an idea of how important it is to VMware's foray into hyper-converged infrastructure.

In this track you'll find "VSAN Vision – The Future of HCI," "What's New in VSAN 6.6 Technical Deep Dive" and "The Top 10 Things to Know About VSAN." The "VSAN Vision – The Future of HCI" session will give you a good idea of where VMware intends to go with VSAN as it relates to the software-defined datacenter (SDDC). VSAN empowers the business to run everything in-house, providing the flexibility to scale on demand. This session will cover how VSAN ties in to the future of hyper-converged infrastructure.

Sub-tracks for this topic include:

  • Plan, Build and Operate a Cloud Infrastructure Platform
  • Server Virtualization
  • Cloud Management
  • Networking and Security
  • HCI and Storage

Emerging Technologies and Trends
I can't imagine a more interesting session track. VMware is putting the spotlight on the ever-changing technology market and will showcase the products that will likely be leading the emerging technology and trends discussion.

How many times recently have you heard someone talk about the Internet of Things (IoT)? This has become a real game changer in the industry, because just about everything today is connected to the Internet. Think about how many things you own or interact with on a daily basis that have an IP address: Your car, TV, watch, phone, laptop, tablet, desktop (yes, some of you still have a desktop; you know who you are), even your refrigerator is pulling an IP address today. How are those things managed from a networking perspective?

Expect to see AirWatch—VMware's enterprise mobility management technology—showcased in this session track, as well as any session dealing with IoT. Because of the explosion of IoT, expect VMware AirWatch to be a bigger part of this year's show. Each year, AirWatch has held its AirWatch Connect conference in Atlanta; I expect that this year AirWatch will merge its Connect conference with VMworld going forward.

Sub-tracks include:

  • Internet of Things
  • Future Trends

Empower the Digital Workspace
Do you allow employees to bring their own devices into the workspace and access corporate data on them? Do you provide tablets to your employees or laptops for your traveling employees? Are you the systems administrator for a K-12 school or university? If you do or are any of these things, then this is your track. AirWatch will also play a big role in this session track, along with the Horizon Suite and Workspace One. Anyone inter­ested in virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) or application virtualization will want to follow this track closely. Some of the cooler products such as VMware Identity Management and Workspace One will be covered in-depth.

Unified Endpoint Management, or UEM, is a hot topic and several sessions will focus on how VMware and AirWatch will be big players in this space. If you're looking to further your career in mobility, this is the session track you'll want to focus on. Career-wise, there's nothing hotter than mobility, and there will be ample sessions within this track to impart the kind of knowledge that will help you stand out in the mobility job market.

Sub-tracks:

  • Application and Desktop Virtualization
  • Unified Endpoint Management
  • Simplify Application and Access Management

WHAT TO EXPECT: ODDS AND ENDS
There's a ton going on at VMworld, and if you're a rookie like I was eight years ago, you'll build your schedule so that every minute is accounted for, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with breakout sessions, general sessions, keynotes and more. Don't do this! I applaud your initiative and drive to succeed, but if you book yourself full you'll miss out on the odds and ends at VMworld; and while there's a lot to do, there's also so much to miss out on.

Solutions Exchange
For instance, you could miss the exhibit hall, known as the Solutions Exchange floor. There's so much happening here that it can make your head spin if you aren't prepared for it. More than 300 vendors will have booth space on the floor—some big, some small and some roving … yes, roving. One year I encountered several "micro vendors" who didn't have booth space or couldn't afford it; so they just roamed the show floor, handing out USB sticks, stickers, shirts and more.

There are monster booths for big vendors like VMware, Dell EMC, Veeam and Nutanix, as well as midsize and small booths. Everywhere you turn, a vendor will be asking you to scan your badge, hand out a t-shirt or get your attention for a few seconds to get their elevator pitch across.

When you plan your visit to the Solutions Exchange floor, pick some vendors you want a deep-dive with and try to get a hands-on demo. If you walk the floor aimlessly, you'll be lost in a world of confusion and buried in tchotchke swag that fills up your backpack. Enjoy the show floor, but do so with a purpose.

The Community
The virtualization community is the real star of VMworld; there are so many bloggers, podcasters, trainers, thought leaders and technical superstars that are passionate about virtualization. I've made and kept more friends from the virtualization community than in any other circle I've run in. The people are genuine and will take time to chat with you and answer questions in which they specialize.

You'll meet VMware all stars like Duncan Epping of Yellow Bricks (blog) fame, ever-present at VMworld both in the United States and Europe shows. In all the years I've been to VMworld, not a single person has been rude or short when I've approached them for a sidebar discussion or question. That being said, don't be afraid to participate in the community, blog, contribute, ask and answer questions. The virtualization community always gives back.

Hands-On Labs
The Hands-on Labs is a highlight of every VMworld, and the 2017 show will be no different. You can kick the tires on VSAN, install and configure NSX or test out your troubleshooting skills in a vSphere lab. While you can get online lab time before and after the show, you don't get the live help you do from an official lab proctor who's there to help should you have a question or run into an issue. Don't miss the Hands-on Labs; it's a big part of the VMworld experience and a good way to learn in a live lab environment.

There's so much to see and do at VMworld, and this article is really just the tip of the iceberg. The most important takeaway is to focus on being prepared. Plan, plan and plan. No need to plan out every minute of your day, but make sure that you see and do the things important to you. Don't miss out on the keynotes, talk to people, make new friends and, most important, enjoy yourself. VMworld isn't meant to be all work and no play or vice versa; it's meeting in the middle of the two. If you plan it right, you can gain a great deal of knowledge, and build your personal network more than you can imagine.

It all adds up to this: Have fun and learn lots.

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