VMware is buying enterprise social/collaboration player Socialcast, and the move is demonstrating a lot of interesting things about the future of collaboration, virtualization, and of course VMware. We may be on the cusp of some interesting changes.
“Collaboration” is the term we apply to communication between workers aimed at reaching some collective decision or combined work product. Most collaboration today is still done face to face because the dynamic of real presence is the most effective in sharing information and reaching collective conclusions. However, the combination of improved communications technology (at lower cost) and increased dispersal of team members has been driving interest in virtual forms of collaboration. These have been further promoted by the rapid growth of smartphones and tablets that offer a wherever-you-are kind of link-up for workers.
It may also change if the basic notion of collaboration changes. We interact with each other based on cultural habits, and when we try to make collaboration work remotely, it’s logical to try to extend the communications interactions via telecom rather than to examine whether some different form of interaction would be smarter and more effectively extended over a network connection.
Social networking introduced a different model for casual human interplay, and from the first it looked like there might be some value in making that model work for business collaboration as well, which is what Socialcast does and what VMware wants. My own work on this, which has been written up in ourNetwatcher journal several times, would tend to back up the social-network value proposition, though larger-scale experience is likely needed to be sure.
One might well ask what this has to do with virtualization, though. VMware has been on an M&A tear, in fact, and much of what it’s grabbing has little to do with the core business. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize that this likely means it sees virtualization running out of steam. Our just-completed enterprise survey shows exactly that; the first signs of weakness for virtualization at the strategic level. It’s not that it’s a bad idea, but that it’s not the Universal Constant. Once you run out of places where it’s valuable, you’re less strategically interested in it. That means you’re less interested in professional services to install and sustain it, and in companies that offer them.
Another limitation to virtualization is that it’s an accommodation and not a strategy. We virtualize machines because we have apps written for single servers that don’t utilize those servers fully. As I noted in some chip comments a week ago or so, the power of the CPU is outrunning the needs of a single application. Where that happens, virtual machines make sense. But remember that many systems are inherently multi-tasking and that many applications are written for those environments.
In the maybe-collaboration space, Apple has officially admitted that it’s going to announce what the media has been calling “iCloud”. In fact, Steve Jobs will carry the water for the new concept. We still don’t know exactly what iCloud is, though. Some are speculating it’s essentially a streaming music service that would compete with other offers in the space from Amazon and Google. Others think it’s a successor to MobileMe, and others something in between. I tend to fall into that middle group. It would be unlike Apple to me-too a competitive offering, even if it sweetened it by adding in more record labels in support of the move. We already have a lot of streaming music services. Similarly it would be unlike them to make a big Jobs event about a re-launch of a service that’s generally seen as one of Apple’s big missteps. So this has to be more. If I had to guess, I’d say that Apple may be planning to blend social, media, and personal organizational aids into a single package built around some sort of social framework.