VMware User Group erupts after leaders from Nutanix sacked from VMUG

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VMware User Group erupts after leaders from Nutanix sacked from VMUG

The ongoing feud between VMware and Nutanix has been taken up a notch after a number of people were sacked from VMware User Group (VMUG) leadership roles.

Nutanix systems engineer Nathan Cox, based in Portland, USA, and Nutanix's Anton Zhbankov, a senior system engineer in Moscow, both claimed to have been removed as VMUG leaders in late December due to their jobs at the hyperconverged vendor.

VMUG leaders are volunteers who are responsible for coordinating activities in their local VMUG community. The group's HQ can remove leaders for inactivity or for "engaging in unethical or illegal behaviour".

The sackings have kicked off intense debate within VMUG, with members tweeting under the #VMUGgate hashtag and senior figures from across the group voicing their concerns via blog posts.

Anthony Spiteri, a Perth-based vChampion who recently joined Veeam after a career that included Zettagrid and Anittel, wrote that the "drastic" action to sack members "should come as no surprise".

He blamed the "constant back and forth between Nutanix and VMware" for the decision, but called for a pragmatic approach.

"So while we all get annoyed from time to time when we witness vendor bias or arrogance – or more specifically in the case of the VMUG ban, the Nutanix vs VMware tribal battles – we should accept that it’s a way of life. Things will not change and nor should you believe that mutual respect will be reached. We will always have a favourite and we will always show bias towards one brand, one vendor… one tribe," Spiteri wrote.

Justin Warren, a Melbourne-based consultant, vExpert and CRN contributor, said: "This looks like Nutanix trying to get some free press. Good luck to them."

Warren said it was a well-known policy that VMUG leaders could not work for competing vendors, and that the Melbourne user group – of which he is a member of the steering committee – had made changes in the past when VMUG leaders moved from the customer to vendor side.

Sacked Russian VMUG leader Zhbankov told CRN that "just before New Year [VMUG chief executive] Brad Tompkins called me on Skype just to inform I am kicked out as VMUG leader completely because of Nutanix. I've tried to contact him to get this confirmed in written form but he just ignored me."

He said VMware had introduced a new rule that vendors or partners could only be VMUG co-leaders if there were also two customer co-leaders. In Russia, "there were no active customers wanting to be co-leader", Zhbankov explained.

Having been a co-leader of VMUG Russia since 2009, Zhbankov had not faced any problems, including when he worked for EMC, until joining Nutanix in late 2016. "What's really funny in here – I am VMware champion in Nutanix EMEA East team. Or I was before that VMUGgate."

VMUG has not released a statement about the issue and did not respond to CRN's enquiries in time for publication.

Ongoing feud

Friction between Nutanix and VMware is nothing new. Only in December, Nutanix chief product and development officer Sunil Potti claimed rivals could not provide a best-in-class experience for their hyperconverged products because they don't own the entire software stack.

In a blog post on LinkedIn, John White, vice president of product strategy at US-based cloud provider Expedient, wrote: "VMware should not be surprised that people will eventually get fed up with a bully-like behavior."

"In case you are living under a rock, Nutanix and VMware are not friendly even though VMware can live on Nutanix. Up until recently it has been almost comical to watch these top technical minds go back and forth with each other about semantics of how things are done technically between their two offerings," White wrote.

He took a stab at VMware's recent partnership with Amazon Web Services, which has simplified migration of VMware environments into AWS, putting competitive pressure on vCAN partners, the vCloud Air Network of private cloud providers.

"Being a VMware 'partner', I know what it means to be spit on," White wrote. "In the past five years VMware has created soon-to-be two directly competing offerings against the vCAN group in a public and now private cloud fashion. A group that has been solicited not only for their feedback on how to make the VMware product better for hosting providers but solicited for the names of the customers they host.

"Think about that: the names of our customers. To top it off we get to see [VMware chief executive] Pat Gelsinger on stage with [AWS chief executive] Andy Jassy in a warm embrace as our premier software 'partner' directly partners with AWS, one of our largest competitors. That, my friend, is true spit in the face over and over again but guess what, we and you will survive."

White's blog was a response to a tweet from Duncan Epping, VMware chief technologist, storage & availability, based in the Netherlands, who said he was not surprised Nutanix execs had been removed. "You can't spit someone in the face over and over again and expect to still be welcome." The tweet has since been deleted.

Epping later claimed his tweet "did not speak on behalf of VMware or on behalf of the VMUG. I responded as DuncanYB, the blogger, a community member, a VMUG supporter, if I wanted to respond as VMware or VMUG I would have use the corporate Twitter account or blog (just like you would)."

Another vExpert to voice his opinion on the debacle is Eric Shanks, senior solutions architect at Chicago-based data centre integrator Ahead.

Shanks blogged: "VMware and Nutanix have often been at odds, and this is no big secret. Nutanix built their own hypervisor (Acropolis) and VMware built their own hyperconverged storage platform (VSAN), so the two companies have overlapping customer bases. You can certainly see why they would consider each other competitors. Competition can be healthy, but in this case, the community members are the ones who will suffer."

Shanks wrote: "From what I’ve read on social media, VMware has made the decision to ban Nutanix employees from being leaders. If this is the case, then is VMUG really an independent organisation?"

VMUG bills itself as "an independent, global, customer-led organisation". Its ranks are full of employees of channel and alliance partner companies, with a cursory search showing members from hardware vendors such as Pure Storage, Nimble Storage and Dell.

Melbourne-based Justin Warren took issue with the argument over whether VMware was exerting undue control over what is ostensibly an independent community.

"VMUG is an arms-length organisation. Calling it totally independent is over-egging it a bit. VMware provides a great deal of support. We could not be able to run our user con without their help but we can exert a certain amount of influence."

However, Warren conceded: "It could have been handled with a bit more diplomacy and aplomb by VMware and it plays into Nutanix's hands."

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