VMware Execs: Some Of Our Storage Partners Are Now Competitors

VMware raised eyebrows last month when it asked some of its storage vendor partners to keep a low profile at its annual Partner Exchange conference or stay away entirely.

On Tuesday, VMware executives shed light on their rationale for doing so. And it’s now clear that VMware, poised to enter the storage market with its VSAN technology, views partners like Nutanix and Veeam as competitors that are no longer welcome at Partner Exchange.

In a press conference at the event, Dave O'Callaghan, senior vice president of global channels and alliances at VMware, said unlike VMworld, the main event on the Palo Alto, Calif.-based vendor's calendar, Partner Exchange is "fundamentally our sales kickoff" for the channel partners that sell and install VMware products.

[Related: VMware Poised To Unleash VSAN Storage Tech, But Pricing Still Unclear ]

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Like many vendors, VMware sees these types of partners as extensions to its own sales force. Technology partners, on the other hand, play a different role in the VMware ecosystem, and O'Callaghan acknowledged that some of them are now competing with VMware.

"If there is a tech partner that has become a competitor over time, they're more than welcome at VMworld," O'Callaghan said. "[But at Partner Exchange], we're going to discuss profitability initiatives, and go to market initiatives, that are meant for our extended sales team.

VSAN works by clustering storage from server hard drives into a shared pool, with capacity of up to one-half petabyte per cluster. VMware is pitching VSAN as a way to lower costs for virtual desktops and provision virtual machines on the fly.

Like many data center vendors, VMware is well versed in the art of co-opetition, with "frenemies" all over the enterprise technology landscape. VMware has let partners fill gaps in its portfolio while it focused on developing more mission critical parts of its stack, but with VSAN, VMware is treading more aggressively into the storage market.

Nutanix and Veeam pulled out of Partner Exchange last month amid claims they were pressured into being quiet about promoting their products at the show.

This doesn't seem to be a big deal for Veeam, which despite not having a booth on the show floor still has "a huge presence" in San Francisco, Doug Hazelman, vice president of product strategy at Veeam, said in an email.

Veeam has hired mobile billboards plying city streets emblazoned with the message "We Are Here!'" Hazelman said the vendor is also holding offsite meeting with its partners.

Nutanix wasn't immediately available for comment on whether it's doing business around Partner Exchange.

VMware, for its part, denies that VSAN is a bid to conquer the storage market. Raghu Raghuram, VMware's executive vice president of cloud Infrastructure and management, described VSAN as "a new tier of storage" that VMware partners will, over time, come to view as a platform for adding their own functionality.

"We don't see this as something that competes against the storage or longstanding partner products in the fiber channel and [network-attached storage] space," Raghuram said in the press conference.

VSAN is for customers that want a storage tier that sits close to the application, Raghuram said. Over time, he predicted, VMware technology partners will be building functionality on top of VSAN.

VMware hasn't yet said how much VSAN will cost or how it'll be licensed, and that's where the competitive implications for other storage vendors will come into sharper focus.