6 things we need to know from VMware

VMware’s new CEO Pat Gelsinger.

VMware’s(s vmw) annual VMworld shindig is next week, giving the company a golden opportunity to answer a lot of questions about its future and its future products. Here are five topics the company needs to address at the event where incoming CEO Pat Gelsinger, and out-going CEO Paul Maritz  will both keynote.

1: Settle the spin out question

Will VMware spin out its Cloud Foundry platform as a service and other cloud assets or keep them in house? As GigaOM reported last month, a spinout was under consideration as a way to help the company become a bigger player in cloud computing. Packaged together, the open-source Cloud Foundry PaaS, EMC’s Greenplum data analysis expertise and an infrastructure as a platform play — all of that could make a cloud foundation that could take on rivals Amazon(s amzn), Microsoft (s msft) and Google (s goog).

2: Clarify the software-defined data center product vision

Folks want to hear VMware CTO Steve Herrod talk more about the company’s notion of a software defined data center, in which software and virtualization assume roles long-held by specialized hardware. VMware’s acquisition of Nicira and its software-defined networking (SDN) prowess will play a big role there and will be the subject of much debate, although the deal is still in the works.

3: Show the world who’s in charge

One question that has dogged VMware since EMC bought it in 2003 is: Who is running the show? When VMware said last month that Maritz (pictured below) would move over to parent company EMC as chief strategist and would be replaced by Gelsinger, president of EMC’s Information Infrastructure Products group, reaction was all over the map. People had many theories such as:

  • A. This was a move by EMC CEO Joe Tucci to tie VMware more tightly to the mother ship.
  • B. Maritz was tired of day-to-day management.
  • C. Gelsinger had to be appeased after Tucci said he would stay on as EMC CEO at least through the end of 2013.
  • D: All of the above.
  • E: None of the above.

Paul Maritz - CEO, VMware - Structure 2011VMware now needs to put these theories to rest with a statement of what Tucci’s role is and how he helps lead the company’s vision.

4: Lose the “memory tax.” For real, and once and for all

VMware infuriated customers last year with vSphere 5 licensing changes that amounted to a price hike (many dubbed it a “memory tax.”) With that release, VMware started charging a fee for the use of vSphere on every socket of a physical server and another fee on the amount of virtual memory used by the hypervisor. Now it’s been reported that VMware will drop the practice.

That single licensing move prompted many VMware shops to at least look at Microsoft Hyper-V or maybe XEN or KVM server virtualization alternatives. VMware needs to clean this up.

5: Address fear of a brain drain

What’s VMware doing to keep and recruit the best technical talent? As GigaOM’s Derrick Harris reported, a lot of engineers left VMware in the past year. Most recently Cloud Foundry luminary Dave McCrory took a new job at Warner Music Group. This perception of brain drain worries people like Bart Copeland, CEO of ActiveState, a Cloud Foundry partner, who wonders if VMware is doing enough to find new senior engineers to replace those who have left.  Whether it’s accurate or not, there is a perception that VMware is bleeding tech talent.

6:  Set priorities

Everyone knows VMware wants to be more than a server virtualization vendor, but despite lots of acquisitions, SpringSource, Zimbra, etc. — its core strength remains squarely what it’s always been: server virtualization. What does VMware want to be? And how will it pursue that expanded agenda without damaging or neglecting its core server virtualization franchise?

Gelsinger, who spent years at Intel(s intc) before joining EMC, is viewed as a hardware guy, and many wonder how he will manage what is pretty clearly a software company.   They would like to know what VMware’s target market really is and who its primary competition is. Microsoft? Google? IBM(s ibm)? HP(s hpq)?  Positioning is important. So let’s hear about it.