This is one of my regular disclosure posts. You can read more of them here.
VMworld 2019 was held in San Francisco, CA on 26-29 August 2019.
Sunday 25 Aug 2019
Around 11am I headed to Melbourne airport via a car service PivotNine uses when I’m away for longer trips or arriving back early in the morning. I’m uncomfortable with making the roughly one hour drive home in traffic after a long flight where I might not get a lot of sleep. Driving is dangerous enough as it is.
I flew to San Francisco from Melbourne via Sydney this time, as that’s when I could find flights that suited my schedule. Flights were paid for by PivotNine. I flew premium economy on Qantas because my boss is a tightarse, and used frequent flyer points to request an upgrade to business class, which came through. Huzzah!
While transiting Sydney airport, I had dinner in the Qantas Business/First lounge after stopping to check on the state of the facial recognition system that Sydney airport has decided it will impose on people without consulting the community. Just like every other shady authoritarian group in Australia, they try to sneak it in without telling anyone and get very cagey if you ask any questions. This is totally the behaviour I expect from people who are absolutely confident that what they’re doing is above board and not at all evil or nefarious.
The poles are still up from the first set of cameras that got taken down after a bunch of people complained. The replacement units have been installed, which are vertical white oblongs with a screen on them, very much like the ones used in the immigration halls, though these appeared to be powered off. There is zero branding on these units, which again is totally cool and normal and not at all suspicious.
The flight from Sydney to San Francisco was in a Boeing 747 and business class was extremely civilised. The lay-down bed thingo meant I got a pretty decent night’s sleep, though I did need to drink a lot of water as the air is pretty dry in this plane. It’s noticeably different to the newer aircraft like the A380 or Dreamliner.
I got into San Francisco mid-afternoon and caught BART to Powell Street station. There was a small delay on BART due to some track works or something, so it was about two hours from landing to getting to my hotel, which didn’t leave a lot of time for freshening up before going to the first of many meetings.
I stayed at Hotel G on Geary Street, paid for by PivotNine through the VMworld booking system, so it was cheaper than finding something directly, but it was still breathtakingly expensive for what you got. I have stayed in some very fancy hotels that cost less money per night, and this shameless gouging when conferences are in town is one of my least favourite aspects of conferences being in San Francisco.
Around 5pm I headed over to the Moscone Center to pick up my badge (VMware kindly granted me a press pass, even though I’m mostly an analyst these days) and went to the first of many briefings for the week.
A bit after 6pm I went to the press and analyst area for some forgettable bain-marie food for dinner, but there was this amazing looking dessert (pictured below) that I had to try. It was some kind of mango pudding encased in a thin cylinder of light sponge cake. Sadly, it looked better than it tasted, though it wasn’t terrible by any means. The mango flavour just wasn’t as intense as I want from a mango dessert.
At 7pm I went to the news briefing for press and analysts to learn what VMware were planning to announce over the next few days. I was a bit confused about some of the micro-segmentation news related to NSX, and the answers from the execs weren’t especially illuminating, so it’s something I’ll have to chase up with the technical teams directly in coming weeks.
Around 8:30pm I joined the folks at VMunderground held at Tabletop Tap House (I bought my own ticket, as I like to support the event) and caught up with lots of my industry friends. I gave out a bunch of my Humans stickers while having a well-earned couple of beers from the selection available as part of the event. My first was an Anchor Steam which was okay but not great, but then I had a black lager called a Mooonlight Death & Taxes which was more like what I wanted after a long travel day.
I walked back to my hotel about 10pm and slept through until 6am the next day, achieving near-perfect timezone synchonisation, which boded well for the week ahead.
Monday 26 Aug 2019
I headed to Moscone North around 7:30am and checked in with the folks from theCUBE, as I was scheduled to guest host some segments after the morning’s keynote. After some quick hellos, I went across the street and up to level 3 to the press lounge to grab a coffee, and decided to try the egg-and-sausage muffin things they had on offer for breakfast. This was a mistake, and I didn’t have a second bite.
I did grab two coffees—one for me and one for a member of the crew who said they’d like one—and went back to theCUBE set on my way into the keynote.
After the keynote, I did some interviews with theCUBE and then headed into briefings. I think I snagged a quick bite to eat for lunch in between meetings, but I have no idea what it was. I was flat out until 4pm when Kimberly Delgado (@KCDAutomate) gave me a personal tour of the hands-on labs.
Then it was back to the hotel to drop off my bag and freshen up before heading to evening events.
Around 5:30pm I swung past a reception by Pivot3 at the Marriott Marquis by invitation from Chief Marketing Officer Bruce Milne. I had a couple of mouthfuls of a glass of an excellent Sauvignon Blanc from Malborough, New Zealand, a couple of pieces of cheese, and a slice of prosciutto while I had a chat to the Pivot3 folk, and then I was off to the next thing just after 6pm.
A short walk to the nearby Press Club on Yerba Buena Ln was an ‘influencer’ reception put on my VMware for press and analysts. I chatted with some fellow analyst folk, and optimistically tried a Pinot Noir only to discover that I still don’t really like Pinot Noir. Not American Pinot Noir, anyway, so I put the glass down and found an acceptable Zinfandel instead. I also had a glass of a quite nice Cabernet Merlot, though I still find American Cabernet a little sweet. I also had a couple of crab cakes and similar nibbles that were being passed around.
By 7:30pm I’d met up with friends who were heading to a Friends of The CTO Advisor dinner organised by my friend Keith Townsend (aka The CTO Advisor) being held at a nearby Osha Thai restaurant, and joined them in a car to get down there in time. Howard Marks would usually organise one of these “get off the Strip” dinners for events at VMworld, but since he’s vendor side now, the mantle has been passed. Howard’s new employer VAST Data was one of the vendors who paid for the event.
We ate family style and I had some very nice Panang chicken along with various other Thai staples, and a glass of red table wine as well as plenty of water.
Around 9:30pm, I was invited to join part of the group at a reception held by Cohesity at Bourbon and Branch which was an interestingly dark and cosy venue. I made it about 2 metres inside the front door before bumping into Lynn Lucas, Chief Marketing Officer for Cohesity, and my friend Thomas Bryant from VMware, and ended up just sitting there at the bar chatting for the next couple of hours. I had a Moscow mule to sooth my throat from all the talking (the ginger beer is what helps) and then Thomas let the bartender pick something for him. It was billed as something akin to a Negroni, but more earthy and dark, which appealed to me and it was absolutely a good choice. I neglected to note down what it was called, so I’ll have to find out.
Around 11:30pm I wandered upstairs and got to chatting to a conference attendee whose name escapes me now. They’d apparently read and enjoyed some of my writing, which is always flattering. They also shared a liking for single-malt whiskeys, but sadly I didn’t have the presence of mind to prevent them from ordering me one as well. It was already quite late, but I politely sipped a little of the really quite excellent one they selected (a Talisker, I believe, as I’m not so knowledegable as to be able to tell accurately without seeing the label) before leaving most of it unfinished, I’m ashamed to say.
I left right on midnight with a group headed back to near my hotel and was in bed by 12:30am. A little later than I originally planned, but still reasonable for a big conference week.
Tuesday 27 Aug 2019
I opted for a bit of a sleep in and caught up on email before heading in to Moscone around 8:30am. I had briefings immediately after the keynote, so I watched most of it from the area called The Square while having a coffee.
The morning was full of briefings, with a short break to take a look at the show floor, and that kept me busy until lunchtime. For lunch I quickly scarfed some chicken and salad bain marie stuff at the press lounge before more meetings and then another spot of guest hosting on theCUBE.
After finishing interviews with theCUBE I dropped my bag at the hotel, freshened up, and headed to the vExpert reception being held at SPIN. I gave out a bunch more Humans stickers and took a selfie with my friend Angelo Luciani as is traditional. Pat Gelsinger arrived around 7:30pm and he very graciously spent time with a lot of the vExperts individually. I quickly said hello and congratulated him on a well-run conference, but mostly I was keen to observe how he interacted with people.
Gelsinger is apparently a regular at these vExpert receptions at VMworld, but this was the first time I’d managed to work it into my schedule so I’d never seen how it went before. He worked the room methodically, like a politician, only too happy to take a photo with someone and to shake their hand. He also listened patiently, and asked people for their opinion. It’s impossible for me to say if this is because he genuinely cares or if he’s simply very well media trained. The fact remains that the VMware CEO made time in his busy conference schedule (and it is very busy) to be unhurried and attentive to this group of technical people that form the core of the VMware technical community. He took the time to make them feel special, and that’s something people will remember beyond their annoyance at some bug or licensing issue.
After my quick handshake I went next door to the A/NZ press and analyst dinner at ALX and caught up with colleagues from Australia and New Zealand. I had a gin and tonic while I caught up on various shenanigans, including one journo (who shall remain nameless) who had lost their passport, obtained an emergency passport to replace it, and then promptly spilled their beer all over it.
We were seated around 8:30pm, and I had a half-dozen oysters as a starter. For main I had an 8oz filet mignon, and there were shared sides of mac-and-cheese, broccolini, and potatoes. I also had a couple of glasses of the red wine that was ordered for the table.
It was interesting trading notes with the other analysts, on the event but also the state of analyst work more generally. I always like to get a broad range of opinions and perspectives at these events. It’s the kind of concentrated intelligence gathering that is difficult to do outside of a conference, though it is quite exhausting pushing all that information into your brain in one go. It always takes me a few days to process it afterwards, and these travel diary style disclosures have become part of how I do that.
We finished up at around 11pm, and I dropped in at a small reception held by my friend Yadin Porter de Leon that was on my way back to my hotel. I had a cleansing ale (a bottle of a mild Belgian brown ale) while talking about gym routines and how amazing Hamilton was with some fellow attendees who had gone to Cohesity’s Hamilton showing that night. I’ve not seen it, nor heard any of the music to the best of my knowledge, though I’m not sure that I’d have the same awed reaction everyone else seems to have. Perhaps one day.
And then it was back to my hotel and in bed before 12:30am again.
Wednesday 28 Aug 2019
I was due for Tech Field Day Extra at the nearby Hotel Zelos around 9am, but arrived waaaaay too early at about 8am so I loitered in the foyer after dropping off my bag while they got done with running an earlier session. I triaged a bunch of email on my phone, trying to keep the usual deluge under control so that I would have to dig myself out from under a mountain when I got back (and potentially miss something important in the process).
As we got settled in for the presentations I had some hotel coffee and a piece of very nice baklava supplied by fellow delegate Al Rasheed.
Then we had a presentation by Apstra, which was quite illuminating. I hadn’t heard of them before, but their offering seems pretty compelling from my first impressions. It’s certainly something I’d want to look at if I was running NSX-T in my enterprise environment. Automated configuration management based on intent is just a sensible way to do things here in 2019. The device command-line isn’t something you should need to look at 99% of the time, unless it’s for some kind of orchestration system or Slack bot.
After that Andy Banta from NetApp used me to illustrate his point about AI systems and decision making involving a vampire analogy. Just watch it, it’ll all make sense.
I had a quick lunch of Mexican shredded chicken tacos with beans and some chips and guacamole before running off to do another few interviews on theCUBE. Then I did another quick run around the show floor before heading up to the analyst zone for a briefing with the CIO of the Australian Stock Exchange. I was feeling a bit flat, so I had a diet Pepsi and a slice of tiramisu that must have been the afternoon snack for the analysts. It was okay as far as bulk-produced tiramisu goes, but I just needed the quick sugar hit really.
I had a bit of a chat with ASX CIO Dan Chesterman while we waited for the media folks to finish some other press stuff they’d been up to. Chesterman was pretty down-to-earth and forthcoming, which was refreshing when compared to some other Australian tech execs I’ve spoken to over the years. It indicates to me that he does actually know what he’s talking about, and is well across his portfolio, so he doesn’t need any bravado or bluster to mask a lack of confidence.
We mostly talked about the ASX’s distributed ledger project, but also a few other things the ASX is up to. Did you know they’re running some Itanium systems? They’re apparently very stable, though they are due to get replaced sometime soon. Also their distributed ledger project sounds very well thought through and is nothing at all like blockchain, really, so I don’t need to mock them by calling out Numberwang. I’m as surprised as you are.
On my way back to the hotel to drop off my stuff before heading out for the evening, I stopped by the Thirsty Bear Brewing Company nearby to say hello to the Tech Field Day folks who were having dinner. I had a Panda Bear golden ale, which was nice and refreshing after a busy day, and a quiet chat to the delegates before thanking Stephen and Ken for having me at the Tech Field Day Extra and heading back to my hotel.
I dropped off my bag and then walked over to Kokkari Estiatorio for a now traditional post-VMworld dinner with Laz Vekiarides (CTO and co-founder of ClearSky Data) and a small group of industry friends and colleagues. While we waiting for a table I had a glass of ouzo on Laz’s suggestion, and it was nice but I can’t see it becoming a regular aperitif for me.
For dinner we had a selection of dishes including octopus (which is near mandatory at these dinners), Greek salad, an amazing goat stew, barbecued sea bass, and grilled lamb. Andy Banta had to leave before dessert because a bunch of people were eagerly anticipating a game of Cards Against Humanity (another VMworld tradition) to start exactly at 10pm and it was nearing 10:30pm. A shame, because the baklava I had was amazing.
PivotNine contributed by paying a quarter of the bill with Jack Poller paying for half and Laz the final quarter.
Laz and I shared a car back to the hotel (on his account) and it turned out we were both staying at Hotel G and hadn’t crossed paths the whole week. I simply wasn’t up for Cards Against Humanity as it was already after midnight and I had client meetings and work to attend to the next day.
Thursday 29 Aug 2019
Past me had been clever enough to not book early meetings, so I slept in until 8am before packing up and checking out of the hotel. I headed down to Moscone and said hello and good bye to a few folks in the community lounge, and then went up to the media and analyst lounge to jump on some calls and process email.
For lunch I met up with HashiCorp CEO Dave McJanet and Jay Fry, head of corporate marketing, at TRACE restaurant at the front of the W hotel across from the Moscone Center. I had a grilled chicken salad and a flat white. I hadn’t really been drinking much coffee all week, basically just a single cup of whatever was easy to find first thing in the morning. The flat white at TRACE was delicious, properly made espresso. I have now found two places in America that can make a coffee the way I like it.
After a couple more meetings in the afternoon, I headed to the airport on BART. Once getting to the Cathay Pacific lounge that serves as the Qantas lounge at SFO, I had a snack of crisps and a bit of a sandwich with a Stella Artois beer, and then a small wonton noodle soup and a half glass of red wine an hour or so later. I’d also lucked into a business class upgrade with my points for the flight home, direct to Melbourne on a Qantas Dreamliner, so I didn’t anticipate I’d need a full meal.
The trip home was very comfy in the fancy business class pod things they have on the new planes. I could do that again.
Then I met my car service to get me home, and that was VMworld done for another year. Apart from all the writing I now need to do about all I’ve learned, of course, like this mammoth blog.
- The VMworld 2019 water bottle. I didn’t pick up a bag, and you could donate it (Where? To what end? No idea.) by getting your badge scanned at the desk, so I did that.
- Two VMware branded pens with a tablet stylus on the top.
- Two VMware branded “petroleum mint lip moisturizer” sticks.
- A pair of Cohesity socks.
- Two Cohesity branded neoprene drink holders that each contained a pair of Cohesity-branded imitation Rayban-style sunglasses.
- A small Extrahop branded egg with bright-green silly-putty inside.
- A Pivot3 sticker. I continue to maintain that PivotNine is three times better than Pivot3.
I also gave away a lot of my Humans Ruin Everything stickers I’d brought with me.