I could make this my shortest ever post and just say that it was a brilliant event but that's hardly useful information for anyone. I did seriously consider it though.
So, in case you weren't able to attend or simply didn't know about it, last week saw the UK's first ever national VMUG take place at the National Motorcycle Museum in Solihull. Ordinarily the UK hosts three VMUG meetings (London, Northern and Scottish) at regular intervals throughout the year but the VMware User Group (VMUG) organisation wanted to try out a UK-wide meeting.
VMUG vs VMUG
Try and keep up with me here. A VMUG is a meeting of people who use or are interested in virtualisation technologies. Such meetings have taken place across the world for a number of years. Depending on which one(s) that you go to, VMUG stands either for “Virtual Machine User Group” or “VMware User Group”. The difference between these is that one aims to be vendor independent whilst the other is more clearly aligned with VMware.
VMUG is also (more recently) an organisation that aims to bring all of the different groups worldwide together and provide them with, amongst other things, better access to VMware, a more consistent experience and a collective voice to VMware. Increasingly VMUGs around the world are turning to VMUG to achieve those aims.
I'm not going to debate the merits / demerits of VMUG (the organisation) now, that's not the point of this article. All I wanted to highlight was that there may be different uses of the term “VMUG”. Hopefully it'll be obvious which one I'm talking about.
If you ask a hundred people living in the UK to name somewhere in the middle you'll probably get a number of different answers. People's perception of where the centre of the UK is will vary depending on where they're from and whether they include Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in their thinking. You'll probably get quite a few of those people mention Birmingham but not many would say Solihull I'd wager.
Solihull doesn't have any hugely iconic buildings or landscapes (perhaps partly explaining why VMUG chose the Houses of Parliament in London as a cover image for the UKVMUG program) but it does have a number of large venues nearby as well as an international airport and rail link on its doorstep.
The venue of choice was the National Motorcycle Museum, somewhere I have not been for a number of years (I grew up in nearby Leamington Spa) and as a choice it was a very good one indeed.
Solihull is at the geographical centre of England and not the centre of the UK (that's somewhere just outside Blackburn) so whilst not exactly central, it was probably chosen to reflect the population density of the south east of the country where it's statistically likely that more delegates would come from. That's not really much comfort for people from the fringes of the UK who would have had to travel quite a distance but they were well represented as it turns out.
The National Motorcycle Museum sports a number of conference rooms both behind and beneath it that I never knew were there. They ranged in size from large rooms capable of holding a typical London VMUG audience (~120 people) to a massive hall that seated all 350 ish attendees plus a dozen or more vendor stands.
Being beneath ground level had its drawbacks however. The primary one was the lack of 3G phone signal for most people. For a blogger like me who tends to tweet a lot at such events, this was not good. The wireless internet on offer seemed incapable of taking the strain either and required a paid subscription to use. This is my only negative criticism of the whole event and should be easily fixed next time the event is held.
The staff, other facilities and food at the venue were very good in my opinion. I would certainly welcome another UKVMUG being held there. However, the timing of any future UKVMUGs may need some consideration. Coming so soon after VMworld Europe it's possible that attendee numbers may have been affected. There are / were also Scottish and Northern VMUGs scheduled quite close to the event, again possibly affecting numbers. Maybe February or May might be a better time?
Something that I was aware of but that others may not have been was that, unlike most of the VMUGs that I've been to before, representatives of the VMUG organisation were present on the day and performed a lot of critical tasks behind the scenes. They were a significant factor in making it a great event in my opinion. They probably won't be on hand to help with every VMUG meeting but I certainly noticed their efforts – thank you. Thanks also to the VMUG committee members for their sterling efforts.
As has been the trend recently, and it was warranted at an event of this size, multiple tracks of content were available for attendees to go to. (See my previous post on this event for the agenda.) The vendors present at the event all got their own slots although I didn't make it to all of them as I had been to VMworld only two weeks previously and I'd had conversations with most them recently.
The non-vendor presentation tracks were most definitely worth attending. Perhaps at future UKVMUGs it might be good to have a few more slots but I realise that there has to be a balance between vendor presentations and community presentations as the former ultimately pick up the bill for the event. The two sessions that I went to were Duncan Epping / Lee Dilworth's HA / DR discussion and Cormac Hogan's vSphere Storage session as I missed both similar sessions at VMworld. I also wanted to see Julian Wood's presentation and Simon Gallagher‘s latest vTardis developments but there wasn't time.
Both the HA / DR discussion and the vSphere Storage session were excellent and could easily have gone on for much longer. It always amazes me how I can turn up to these sessions and learn so many new things. Kudos to Duncan, Lee and Cormac.
An event of this size justifies getting some big speakers, some big thinkers in for keynote presentations. Here the event wasn't lacking either. After Alaric's customary (if you're a London VMUG attendee) welcome Joe Baguley (VMware's Chief Cloud Technologist) took to the stage and gave me plenty to think about. In fact he inspired one upcoming post while he was still speaking and gave me plenty more to consider.
Mike Laverick closed out the event with his presentation about the bumps in the road of the journey to the cloud and kept the audience going until the very end.
Besides the presentations, the vendor stands, the food and the conversation there were other things going on as well. Alan Renouf and Jonathan Medd (two of the authors of VMware vSphere PowerCLI Reference) ran a PowerCLI lab and drop-in session for the whole day. Veeam had their own lab environment running too (although I didn't get to try that out). Simon Gallagher organised a mini VCDX defence session where people aiming to obtain the qualification got to hear some great advice from Duncan Epping (VCDX #007) before trying out short presentations and getting a good grilling in return. In my opinion, that was easily the highlight of the event.
The night before the VMUG heralded the first official vCurry event also. Since a number of people were travelling some distance to attend the VMUG, many stayed overnight before the event. Veeam kindly stepped in to sponsor vCurry (and vBeers) held in the Museum building. For the 50 or so who attended that, it was an opportunity to meet, chat, eat and look at motorbikes 🙂
I hope that this is only the first of many UKVMUGs. I would certainly attend again although I also look forward to getting along to some smaller, more intimate, but just as useful London VMUGs. Once a year would certainly (for the time being) be the sweet-spot for organising a UK-wide event. Like I said earlier though, the timing needs some tweaking.
More generally, VMUGs are an excellent opportunity for VMware / virtualisation users of all levels to learn and network FOR FREE!!
With the event now over you have to wait until next year. But the date is known: 26/01/2012. Put it in your calendar now, enjoy Christmas and watch this space. The UKVMUG has set the bar high and drawn in new attendees. I am Michael Poore, and I send this message to anyone who hasn't been to a VMUG before: It's there for you. It's worth the effort.
(Sorry about the blatant Transformers rip-off above, it was on TV at the time.)