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VMware nixes competitor demos at lopsided IT show

VMware denied IT managers a chance to compare VMware products against those of Microsoft and Citrix at VMworld.

This week's column comes to you from VMworld 2009 in San Francisco. This year's conference drew over 12,000 attendees which is amazing for a down year and shows how hot virtualization is and how much people love VMware.

There's a lot of great information here, but unfortunately it's all one-sided. VMware decided that competitors would not be allowed to be sponsors of the conference.

The two biggest causalities of this new policy are Citrix and Microsoft. This is really a shame, because when you think of virtualization, the first three companies that pop into most peoples' heads are VMware, Citrix, and Microsoft.

There have been a lot of rumors floating about how exactly this happened, but after talking to several people from all the companies involved (and after reading blog posts from Both Citrix and Microsoft), I think I have a pretty good understanding of what happened:

VMworld, like most big conferences, has multiple sponsorship levels (Gold, Platinum, etc.), and the level of sponsorship determines the size of the booth. There are also plain "exhibitors" in the exhibit hall that aren't listed as sponsors and that are limited to a ten-foot by ten-foot booth.

Even though both Citrix and Microsoft wanted to sponsor VMware at the gold level, VMware said "no" and is only letting them get the 10x10 both.

Furthermore, VMware told the exhibitors in the small booths that if they showed live demos, all the people standing around watching the demo had to be within the boundaries of the 10x10 both. (So that's enough room for what, about five people to watch the demo?) VMware also specified that Citrix and Microsoft couldn't show products that compete against VMware in any way.

So what did Citrix and Microsoft end up doing? They only sent skeleton booth crews to the show. Neither one is showing any demos.

What's worse is that one of the more interesting new technologies at the show is that VMware is demoing a software-only version of the PC-over-IP protocol. And in their booth, VMware has it running side-by-side next to an ICA connection so they can show you just how good PC-over-IP is.

This act of showing the competition is the exact thing that VMware is not allowing Citrix to do. So VMware can set up a demo in their booth to show why they're better than Citrix about something, yet at the very same show, Citrix can't defend itself!

At the end of the day this is VMware's conference, so they can do whatever we want. But it's a bit disingenuous to try to pass it off as an "industry event" when in fact it's just one single vendor's product and marketing conference.

The ultimate irony is that the theme of VMworld 2009 is "hello freedom." It wasn't until the opening keynote was over that we learned that "freedom" meant that with VMware, you have the freedom to move your virtual workloads from a VMware-powered datacenter within your company to a VMware-powered datacenter outside your company. "Freedom" is certainly not about the freedom of information being exchanged at VMworld.

Brian Madden, Independent Industry Analyst and Blogger
Brian Madden is known throughout the world as an opinionated, super technical, fiercely independent desktop virtualization expert. He's written several books and over 1,000 articles about desktop and application virtualization. Brian's blog,, receives millions of visitors per year and is a leading source for conversation, debate and discourse about the application and desktop virtualization industry. Brian is also the creator of BriForum, the premier independent application delivery technical conference.

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