EMC Engineer Calls Out VMware Sales Rep On Twitter Over Partner Neutrality

A skirmish on Twitter earlier this week between employees from EMC, VMware and converged infrastructure startup Nutanix is highlighting the sometimes tricky nature of enterprise vendor partnerships.

On Wednesday, Jad El-Zein, principal engineer for VMware's Public Sector Solutions Engineering and Technology (SET) team, tweeted that he'd just recommended Nutanix for a project he described as "what can be the largest higher-[education] View deployment anywhere."

View is VMware's desktop virtualization software, and Nutanix provides the compute and storage infrastructure to run it on.

Matt Cowger, global architect at EMC, VMware's parent company, jumped on El-Zein's tweet almost immediately, questioning whether he should be making any storage recommendations at all given VMware's pledge to remain neutral in this area.

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"I thought VMware was partner neutral...at least they claim to be," Cowger tweeted.

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VMware relies on its vast partner ecosystem, which delivers storage, security, management and other technologies it doesn't develop itself, to meet the needs of its diverse customer base. VMware tries to avoid the appearance of favoring one ecosystem partner over another when talking with customers, but this can put its reps in difficult positions.

This is especially true when storage is involved, since EMC owns 80 percent of VMware and would, of course, prefer that VMware not point customers to vendors that it competes with.

At that point, things began heating up. El-Zein said he typically does remain neutral, but in this case, recommended Nutanix based on his customer's "specific requirements and down-selected options."

Several Nutanix employees chimed in, including Sudheesh Nair, vice president of global sales, asking Cowger what course of action VMware reps should take in cases where customers ask them for storage recommendations.

Cowger tweeted back that if he were in El-Zein's shoes, he wouldn't make any sort of recommendation "regardless of how good a fit" Nutanix -- or any other vendor -- happened to be.

Jason Langone, senior territory account manager at Nutanix, stirred the pot further by asking Cowger whether EMC was "threatened" by startup competitors like Nutanix, tweeting "what's your thought on VMware reps being reprimanded for recommending #Nutanix over #EMC then?"

Cowger didn't respond. On Friday, Langone really took the gloves off, tweeting: "I remember a time. A time when #VMware didn't smell like Hopkinton. That's the VMware I grew up with."

VMware, EMC and Nutanix did not responded to a request for comment on the Twitter dust-up. But, it's sure to give fodder to those who believe that EMC is exerting a greater influence over VMware than it has in the past.

One source familiar with the situation, who also requested anonymity, told CRN VMware's vSAN storage technology, which lets vSphere cluster flash and hard drive storage from three to eight servers into a shared storage pool, could make these discussions moot in the future, at least in the lower end of the market.

PUBLISHED Oct. 4, 2013