The VMware User Group (VMUG) has seen its influence with the software vendor increase as its ranks have swelled to over 80,000 members in recent years, according to president Mariano Maluf.

VMUG was officially formed in 2010, bringing together disparate user groups across the world, which had been springing up since the early part of last decade. The group provides free support to members through regional meetings, special interest groups, online forums and newsletters and also offers an Advantage paid subscription scheme to reduce costs such as training.

According to Maluf, VMUG has seen 'tremendous' growth in the past three years, and has now passed the 80,000 mark.

"A couple of things happened when VMUG was launched – our voice got clearer within VMware, and we were able to tie-in within VMware at a much higher level," said Maluf, who is also lead cloud architect at Coca-Cola.

"The growth in membership has also been tremendous - we started with just shy of 20,000 individual members back in 2010, now we are over 80,000."

The user group is now represented in most of the Fortune 1000 companies, Maluf said, with members tending to be from IT manager and director level, with a smaller proportion of C-level execs.

vRAM pricing changes

The group was launched with some investment from the vendor, which has one vote in 11 on the board of directors. Maluf said that the group has still retained independence from the vendor, both financially (it brings the majority of its income from sponsors for events and its paid subscriptions, for instance) and in terms of its ability to provide a voice of opposition on behalf of its user community when necessary.

For example, when VMware made changes to its pricing with the introduction of its vRAM model - which many customers complained raised costs and prevented flexibility - the user group was able to provide high-level feedback to executives.

"They announced the vRAM pricing in the morning, and that afternoon we were on phone calls with their executives who came to to us saying 'we are getting feedback from the industry, what are you hearing from your members?'"

He continued: "We were providing feedback within hours. There is just no other software company that can respond that quickly, and it was a sweeping change VMware made – they killed it."

Software defined data centre and hybrid cloud

One of the key roles that the user group can play in future is in providing a network of support for customers who choose to deploy some the newer product sets being released by the vendor.

At VMworld Europe 2013 last week, VMware continued its drive to virtualise other parts of the data centre, as well as furthering its hybrid cloud plans with the launch of its vCloud Hybrid Service in Europe.

Maluf said that VMUG will be able to provide users with access to other professionals who are implementing the tools, helping to avoid pitfalls when implementing any new products.

This will mean a particular focus on network virtualisation following the purchase of Nicira and the launch of its NSX networking software, which VMware announced is now on general availability.

"With all these new emerging technologies that they want to become mainstream quickly, we offer the ability to tap into that knowledge source of others who have been there before and solved problems," he said.

"One of our focuses is going to be on engaging that networking community. VMware has been heavily focused on the computing community as its customer base, so as it continues to expand focus into other areas such as storage and networking, we want to make sure we can engage with professionals in those areas, and will make this more visible in the VMUG community."