A ‘betwixt and between’ VMware opens the doors at VMworld

Contact: Brenon Daly

Even though it’s only 15 years old, VMware is beginning to look decidedly middle-aged. The virtualization kingpin, which opens its annual users’ conference today, is no longer the flashy young startup that was nearly doubling sales each year in the middle part of the previous decade. Nor is it (by any means) a tech dinosaur, defensively trying to protect its past successes while knowing full well that its best days are behind it.

Instead, VMware finds itself betwixt and between. And fittingly for a company in an indistinct period of its life, there’s uncertainty around its business. That is cascading through not only the operations of the company, but also its very identity. As it kicks off VMworld in San Francisco, VMware is still working through a restructuring, which, among other things, has seen it cut 800 jobs and divest a handful of businesses so far this year.

As one illuminating example of the uncertainty around VMware and its business, consider the company’s license sales, which are the lifeblood of any software firm. Back in the beginning of the year, VMware projected roughly 10% license growth for 2013. Off a 2012 base of about $2bn in license sales, that would imply roughly $200m of new VMware licenses sold this year. Through the first two quarters of the year, VMware has added a grand total of just $20m in additional license revenue.

The problems from the vendor’s flatlining software sales are exacerbated by the fact that it has whiffed on a few of the businesses that it acquired with the hopes of spurring growth in new markets. Misguided acquisitions such as Zimbra and SlideRocket took VMware further away from supplying technology to power datacenters and into the hotly contested consumer application market. VMware has sold off both of those businesses, along with three other divestitures so far in 2013. On the other side, it has bought only one company this year.

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