If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you are no doubt familiar with Burning Man, the month-long uninhibited city/party held in the desert. It’s a touchstone event for a certain type of person that has, over the past year or two, become increasingly uncommon in the various “scenes” that exist here in the Yay Area, the East Bay (it’s Pig Latin), and the Valley, as if there were another somewhere in California that mattered…

Of those scenes, there used to be a significant blurring between the Valley and the Burners. Look around at the history of technology, and you’ll find some very talented software developers who also “do the whole Burning Man Thing.”

I actually ran into one just the other night: Apache cofounder Brian Behlendorf. Google is also rife with Burners, including cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, current Director Games and creator of Amiga OS RJ Mical, and my own personal at-Google buddy Crutcher Donovan have all either attended or are currently on the Playa.

It makes for a great weekend to get brunch here in the Bay Area, though our bridge is closed for the next few days in order to be replaced by a marvel of modern engineering.

It also makes for a weird melding of three different events, as a select group of people moved through any combination of two or three of them.

VMware’s VMworld took place this week in San Francisco, and the event is quite possibly the antithesis of Burning Man. The show has become the standard place to flog IT equipment of just about every sort. This year’s inclusion of Juniper support across VMware product lines brings the network into the fold as well. Storage began to see representation last year, and it only grew this year. Cloud companies like Rackspace were there as well.

It made for a very suit-heavy show, where many of the messages being bandied about were in direct conflict with the core idea of VMware: to sell more virtual machine licenses.

The biggest of these conflicts is an internal one. VMware and EMC own Pivotal Labs, a company that sees a future built around applications, not specifically VMs. Sure, they’re based on Cloud Foundry, but the fundamental promise of a good PaaS is to eliminate the need to worry about the health or status of underlying virtual machines.

It made for a busy show with a lot of discussions, but aside from a few vendors like Cloud Physics and Actifio, there wasn’t a lot of innovation on display.

Compare that to PuppetConf, held last week in San Francisco. PuppetConf was actually at the top of Nob Hill in the billion-dollar (yes, billion) Fairmont Hotel. The attendees were decidedly younger and hipper than those at the VMware show.

One thing I definitely noticed was the number of women at PuppetConf was a much better ratio than at VMworld. PuppetConf seemed to have about a 3:1 ratio of men to women, whereas almost all of the women at VMworld were with vendors. )As a number of them were wearing sexy outfits, or even painted gold from head to toe, I shan’t be counting them as attendees in my ratio for VMworld.) I’d say it was about 10:1.

This was definitely endemic of the whole VMware ecosystem. It’s a new take on the old ways. These are the same people who go to Oracle events. There’s nothing wrong with them, but they’re not hear to learn about new things, they’re here to get out of town for the weekend, to take their families to Pier 39, and to go to all the parties. They’re not here to change the world of IT administration anymore.

What does this all say about DevOps and development? Well, for a start, a great many of you developers out there now have something in common with your best systems administrators: You both write code all day!

Yep, thanks to Puppet and Chef, the day-to-day work of IT is now mostly made up of writing installation and configuration files for them. While it’s true this type of work was always being done under the guise of shell scripts and mountains of Perl, Puppet and Chef have truly brought IT admin work out of the shadows and into the light.

And that light is being carried by the same folks who are right now out on the Playa, burning things, riding bikes, taking large quantities of drugs, and generally having an amazing time, I’m sure.

I’ve actually never been to Burning Man, but because I live in the Bay Area, I get to see all of the art projects come together before they ship out. I feel sort of the same way about admin tools as I do about Burning Man: I’m glad there are some smart and wacky people out there making things better for IT, even though I personally don’t run any servers anymore.

But I am sure of one thing: All the announcements at VMworld don’t make a bit of difference without Chef and Puppet. Those tools are absolutely essential to the modern cloud environment. VMware may be selling a lot of licenses, but it’s not changing the actual day-to-day work of IT anymore. That virtualization revolution has passed.

The revolution now will take place in the formulation of the new stack that lives on top of a virtualized environment. Be it PaaS, herds of VMs controlled by Puppet/Chef/Ansible/Salt, or even a single great cloud rife with Linux containers, no one is talking about the exciting innovations taking place where servers meet VMs.

Instead, they’re talking about possibly eliminating operating systems altogether, and about lathe-like upgrades that run hourly across entire systems. The actual virtualization layer is becoming more and more irrelevant every day. And the real reason VMware can’t get its strategy for growth into the higher levels of orchestration is, frankly, because the company long ago chased out all of its Burners.

Just kidding. There’s a lot more to it than that. I do bet, however, that next year’s VMworld remains about the same size, while next year’s PuppetConf will probably double in size.

That’s because the configuration management layers are where the actual customization of systems is manifesting, not inside of some expensive VMware tool.