Over the last several weeks, the stability of the “vCommunity” has been called into question. Is this still a community, or is it time to start anew someplace else? As is my custom, I think it’s worth looking at our history to understand the true state of the vCommunity.

In 2011, I was recruited by Dell (away from EMC, believe it or not!) to build Dell’s storage community. I wrote about building a community based on sociological norms. The following elements are what are required to call a group of people a “community”:

  1. Place: Territorial or place community can be seen as where people have something in common
  2. Interest: In interest or ‘elective’ communities people share a common characteristic other than place
  3. Communion: a sense of attachment to a place, group or idea

Now that I’m at VMware, I’m excited to work with the “vCommunity” of which I’ve always been a member. But our community seems to be shifting.

vCommunity History

Many would say that the vCommunity that has developed around the VMware products is the de facto enterprise infrastructure community. It crosses storage and server platforms. It encompasses all backup, security, and monitoring applications. In fact, it crosses all applications.

The community grew from a time when virtualization, specifically VMware, was not very widely adopted or understood. In the early days, Solaris (now Oracle) people told us that virtualization could mean anything. Of course, they meant Solaris Zones – a pre-curser to modern container technologies – which were new at the time.  Naysayers also said that VMware salespeople were peddling snake oil.

Individuals who saw how game-changing VMware was started evangelizing the platform. When blogs and Twitter became popular around 2007, people started to find each other to teach each other. This created the vCommunity Place.

Place

We now have different Places than we had when I started the Dell Storage Community. Back then, we used Dell Tech Center Communities, Twitter, Facebook, and blogs as virtual spaces, and Dell Storage Forum (the precurser to Dell World) and other events such as VMworld, EMC World, VMUGs,  VMunderground, and Tech Field Days. The places for the vCommunites have always been scattered everywhere, but now they also include new types of online community technologies such as Slack.

As the Interest of our community shifts to cloud computing, the Place that defines the vCommunity seems to be shifting as well.

Interest

Cloud computing is becoming more defined and more widely adopted, and it seems to be a natural progression for our community to learn about these things. More on this in a bit.

Communion

From the beginning, the core of the community was built by people who sought to remain independent from any reliance on vendors, specifically vendor marketing. This was especially important as early enthusiasts planned ways to cement the community via communion.

History: VMunderground

Theron Conrey organized the 2007 VMworld party that evolved into VMunderground in 2010. He started it because in the early days the VMTN network was corporate driven. Theron has always been an open source guy, and he missed the camaraderie of open source groups. Theron wanted to create a place where people interested in VMware could commune “without a constant sales barrage”. After getting stuck with a bar tab, the next year they looked for sponsors to off-set the cost.

This is how Brian Knudtson, current VMunderground organizer, describes the event:

“[The] Event is community focused, not a marketing event. It gives companies awareness and an opportunity to show support to the community.). “

 It isn’t a surprise that VMunderground was an immediate success; drinking spaces often strengthen community bonds. I wrote about the sociological reasons for this a few years ago in this post: Beer is the essential ingredient to community building.

History: vBrownBag

According to Alastair Cooke, vBrownBag was created by Cody Bunch in 2007 so he could study for his VCP (VMware Certified Professional certification). The first learning gap we (infrastructure architects and engineers) had to overcome was to understand what is involved with virtualizing physical servers: what does that mean to applications, to security, to availability? Once we figured that out, we needed to understand how do we do this at scale: how do you manage large numbers of VMs in a production environment?  vBrownBag has been there to help us understand all of these topics.

As people wanted to learn more about cloud computing topics, vBrownBag developed programs for topics such as AWS certifications and devops. When I was at Spanning, I used vBrownBag to explain what SaaS meant, and how to manage it from a traditional infrastructure perspective. My introduction to many emerging technical concepts have been from watching vBrownBag. The ramp up we’re starting to see of people openly searching for information on these topics is perhaps one of the biggest indicators that our community is changing.

The Interest of the vCommunity is changing.

It is obvious now that virtualization is only one stop on the journey, it was never the final destination for those of us involved with architecting, building, and managing data centers. It’s no longer enough to understand virtualization, although the basics are now accepted as a requirement of the stack of a modern data center. Virtualization is also a requirement of cloud computing, so it’s only natural that our community’s interest is expanding into these new spaces. Does this mean we’ll abandon the community that held us together for the past 10 years? Since we need to maintain focus on both interests, I don’t think that will happen.

A lot can happen over 10 years. We’ve watched each other go through marriages, divorces, children being born and growing up. We’ve had some amazing celebrations together, and some agonizing tragedies. These things also bind us together as friends. I believe this is the reason for the fiery passion as we see our communities changing. We need this Place, and it is obvious that we’re willing to fight for it.

Where do we go from here?

This is a hard question for me to answer. I’ve been a part of the community from the early days, but currently I work at VMware. I was lucky to work at a company whose entire SaaS service was built and run from AWS, so I can clearly see where the learning gaps are for our community.

VMworld has always been one of the primary gathering places for our community, as Alastair Cooke says, it is “the gathering of the clan”. Will that change as the community’s interest changes? The primary online place continues to be vBrownBag, and true to their history they are creating the content to satisfy the needs of people trying to learn more about cloud technologies.

As things evolve, it’s tempting to think that our community is dead, but that is the farthest thing from the truth. If it were dead, we wouldn’t care about structural changes, we would ignore them. We need to remember that our community is young, it’s only been around for  ten years. We all rely on this community to help us navigate the rapid acceleration of technological change that we must understand in order to properly manage the IT infrastructure for our organizations. The community is very much alive, and thank goodness because we need it more than ever right now. Do whatever you can to support it!

Many thanks to Theron Conrey, Brian Knudtson, Alastair Cooke, and Cody Bunch for letting me interview them and use their words to tell the origin story of our community in this post.

 

 

 

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