VMWare's "Your license has expired" bug from earlier this week has been resolved by a patch, but that doesn't mean there aren't large lessons for small and midsize businesses in how VMWare handled the problem and, in a couple of important areas, failed to.First things first, the VMWare patch has been released and the company is working on a bug-free revise of the program itself.
On Tuesday, along with a preliminary patch, VMWare CEO Paul Maritz released an open letter about the problem that's in many ways a model for such letters: he acknowledges that a mistake was made, and does so without waffling.
But until that letter was released, VMWare's Web site was in my opinion a model of how not to handle a crisis in our blog-enabled, comment-hungry age.
As far I could tell, VMWare's homepage never did acknowledge the problem.
Big mistake, I think: if nothing else, a bold and prominently positioned button guiding browsers to a comment or explanation page would have gotten the company in front of the crisis while it was happening, rather than giving a "business as usual" or, worse, "we don't want to be any more open about this than we have to" impression on their front page.
Same was true on the VMWare downloads page, which now bears a Special Notice banner across its top, but which during the problem was notably free of any such notification, at least as far as I could tell.
What makes these oversights most troubling is that VMWare does so many things right in terms of providing community-building and community-communicating resources for its customers.
Problem is that when a problem occurs that community starts to talk, and that talk attracts others (IT press included) to listen in and get a sense of what's going on.
By not putting the problem on the front page, VMWare fueled the postings, user group comments, and other often hostile flow.
Business problems are a fact of business life but it's also a fact of business life in the Internet age that you've got to get in front of and take an active role in staying in front of the problem, whatever its nature, as well as solving it.
That's a communications and public perception issue, and if you don't think that communications and public perception are business security issues when everyone out there has a digital megaphone, you're wrong, same way VMWare's communications team was when the problem was raging.
I think VMWare will ride out the storm, despite what some are predicting: virtualization remains hot and I think VMWare will as well.
Check out bMighty's How To Virtualize A Server series to get a handle on just why virtualization is so hot.