Q&A: The Canuck on VMware User Group
Scott Elliott, an IT architect at Christie Digital Inc., a Kitchener, Ont.-based vendor of projection displays and visualization technologies, has just assumed the role of Canadian representative on a new global board of directors created by the VMware User Group program. Formed in May 2010, the independent board began its inaugural term at the start of 2011. Elliot, who holds the position of treasurer and oversees strategy for the board spoke with ComputerWorld Canada about the new board’s mandate and his views on VMware’s vision for the future IT department.

ComputerWorld Canada: What’s the mandate of the independent board of directors formed by the VMware User Group program last year?

Scott Elliott: This is the first iteration. VMware took a look at their leaders and looked at who seemed to be really enthusiastic. Our first official term starts at the beginning of 2011. My term is two years. There are roughly 10 board members that are customers of VMware, and there’s one seat from VMware itself. For the most part, the board members run their own user group in their own local area. So, I run the southwestern Ontario user group. The mandate, plain and simple, is to enhance the experience of the user group program for VMware customers. Historically, the way it started out is members would have half-day sessions and talk about what they’re doing with VMware and talk about generic VMware problems. But some enthusiastic leaders decided they wanted a bigger day session. But they are not event coordinators. And going from one world to the next is a bit of shock: so what do you mean I have to negotiate the rental space five months in advance? And I have to take care of catering too? One of the biggest wins that we can do right now with the global VMUG program is we can take away all of that logistical headaches that these leaders have. The global VMUG program has a staff that contacts the venues, we’ll arrange for catering, we’ll arrange for an A/V, we’ll do the program printing, we’ll go out and solicit the sponsors.

My role gives a much bigger voice to the Canadian user groups out here. For example, the Toronto area was, for whatever reason, not very well represented from the perspective of a VMware User Group perspective. There are all these customers out there that really want more of these sessions but a leader hadn’t stepped forward in the Toronto area, which is quite arguably Canada’s largest concentration of these type of users. Because I knew of the program, I was able to run a user program in the Toronto area. Because of the event, someone saw it and liked what was happening. He came forward and he started running it. I think that’s a big win for the user group in general.

CWC: As a member of the user group, what are some of the issues you’ve been hearing from the Canadian community about its use of VMware technology?

SE: I don’t know if Canadian users have anything particularly unique to say about what users in general have. The type of comments are what’s all this new VMware stuff coming down the pipeline? VMware has really ramped up its product launch in the last 12 to 18 months and most people don’t have the luxury to sit around and wait for the next release and skim through the release notes right away. This gives the opportunity to a lot of users to really get a concentrated ‘Hey, this is the new and greatest from VMware or all the other solutions provided by other companies just don’t get noticed, they get opportunity to get up to speed. If it’s anything from a Canadian perspective, it’s getting noticed from VMware. It’s really hard to get noticed by VMware as a Canadian. Simply by the sheer size of our market, we count as 35 million versus 400 million in the States.

CWC: Last year, VMware spoke of a new IT infrastructure, or a new stack, where private and public clouds can be automatically provisioned and end users serve themselves. What do you think of VMware’s vision of the IT department and is that reflected at Christie Digital?

SE: The concept of a cloud or cloud computing, it’s one of those unique phenomenon of the IT industry right now in that every different vendor has a different idea of what cloud computing is. And, it’s now become more of a buzzword than actual fact. If you look up at the sky in Toronto and you see a cloud, it will look like Pinocchio. I’ll look at a different cloud and it’ll look like Dumbo. Specifically, with the concept of a private cloud, VMware has been providing that for quite some time. My interpretation of private cloud computing from VMware is basically having this supply box of computing power that you can divvy up to various applications and these various applications don’t know the various hardware that they happen to be on. It makes your IT team a lot more flexible. Being able to bridge between the private and public cloud at Christie Digital, itself, I haven’t had the direction or the mandate to start investigating a VMware public cloud. I think that services out there right now from Canadian providers who are still really trying to define what it is. Trying to work out the kinks like security is a huge issue. Is it coming? Yes, it’s coming eventually. VMware is probably just as accurate anyone else. I don’t think any vendor has the exact vision of what the public/private cloud is.

CWC: It has often been observed that companies will start consolidating their infrastructure but then reach a level of 30 per cent virtualization before stalling. The issue of virtual stall has been blamed on lack of visibility into virtual machines and a lack of skills to maintain an increasingly virtualized infrastructure. Is that an issue you are seeing from a user perspective?

SE: Once you go through and you do all the low hanging fruit, the stuff that you don’t have key business decision-makers paying attention to, yes, there is some hesitation to start going on to the next level. You will come up against people that are server huggers for their various applications. It’s one of those things where you have to be as opportunistic as you possibly can. Slowly gain trust, slowly build out the use cases, slowly show them what you can do.

I’m not sure it’s the skills involved (that’s causing virtual stall). The thing is that it’s different. There are very few people out there who actually like to try new things. There is a skill set that’s required, no doubt about that … but I don’t think attaining said skill set is a difficult thing. It’s just putting your priority to make sure you have that skill set.

CWC: For those companies just starting out their path to the cloud, do you see virtualization as a precursor to cloud adoption?

SE: If it’s VMware’s vision of cloud, then yes you need virtualization. I don’t think you necessarily must have in-house virtualization/private cloud before you can make the transition to cloud as an industry. I’m sure Microsoft with the Cloud Power will gladly take your money without you having to invest one cent in having a Hyper-V installation behind your firewall. But it’s like ‘Which type of cloud computing are you referring to?’ And, it goes down even further: ‘Which type of cloud computing from which vendor?’

CWC: From a user perspective, what do you hope to hear from VMware in the next year?

SE: I expect them to continue the partnership with the VMware User Group program, making additional investments for the user community. I believe that having engaged customers is a really smart investment for VMware because engaged customers tend to buy more VMware. And it provides a more loyal customer so that it will help VMware’s entrenchment in the various companies out there.

I personally want to make sure that these full-day conferences really deliver value to the user. I’m hoping that is viewed as a way for users to get a small taste or slice of what’s offered at, say, a VMworld, but offered to those users who can’t afford the travel time and costs.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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