Looking back on InteropITX 2017 – the good, the bad, and the future

My fifth Interop conference is in the books now. Let’s take a look back and see how it turned out, and where I think it will go next year. See disclosures at the end if you’re into that sort of thing.

Ch-ch-ch-changes…

The event scaled down this year, moving down the strip to the MGM Grand Conference Center after several years at Mandalay Bay. With the introduction of a 30-member advisory board from industry and community to support the content tracks, Interop moved toward a stronger content focus than I’d perceived in past events.

The metrics provided by Meghan Reilly (Interop general manager) and Susan Fogarty (head of content) showed some interesting dynamics in this year’s attendance.

The most represented companies had 6-7 attendees each, as I recall from the opening callouts, with an average of about 2 people per company. More than half of the attendees were experiencing Interop for the first time, and nearly two thirds were management as opposed to practitioners.

The focus on IT leadership, from the keynotes to the leadership and professional development track for sessions, was definitely front and center.

How about that content?

Keynotes brought some of the big names and interesting stories to InteropITX. There wasn’t always a direct correlation, but there was some interesting context to be experienced, from Cisco’s Susie Wee talking about code and programmability in an application world (and getting the audience to do live API calls from their phones), to Kevin Mandia of Fireeye talking about real world security postures and threat landscapes. Andrew McAfee brought the acronym of the year to the stage, noting that often the decisions in companies are not made by the right person, but the HiPPOs — Highest Paid Person’s Opinion.

With five active tracks, there was content for everyone in the breakouts this year as well. Some tracks will need larger rooms next year (like the Packet Pushers Future Of Networking, which seemed to demand software-defined seating when I tried to get in) and others may need some heavier recruiting.

Attendees can access the presentations they missed (check your Interop emails), and some presentations may have been posted separately by the presenters (i.e. to Slideshare or their own web properties) for general access. Alas, or perhaps luckily, the sessions were not recorded, so if you haven’t heard Stephen Foskett’s storage joke, you’ll have to find him in person to experience it.

Panic at the Expo?

But the traditional draw of Interop, its expo floor (now called the Business Hall), was still noteworthy. With over a hundred exhibitors, from large IT organizations like VMware to startups and niche suppliers, you could see almost anything there (except wireless technology, as @wirelessnerd will tell you about here). American Express OPEN was even there again as well, and while they couldn’t help with fixing Amex’s limited retort to Chase Sapphire Reserve (read more about that on rsts11travel if you like), they were there to help business owners get charge card applications and swag processed.

The mega-theatre booths of past years were gone, and this year’s largest booths were 30×30 for VMware and Cylance among others.

Some of the big infrastructure names were scaled way back (like Cisco, with a 10×10 along with a Viptela 10×10 and a Meraki presence at the NBASET Alliance booth) or absent (like Dell, whose only presence was in an OEM appliance reference, and HPE, who seem to have been completely absent).

These two noteworthy changes to the expo scene were probably good for the ecosystem as a whole, with a caveat. With a more leveled playing field in terms of scale and scope, a wider range of exhibitors were able to get noticed, and it seemed that the booth theatre model and the predatory scanner tactics were mostly sidelined in favor of paying attention to people who were genuinely interested.

The caveat, and a definite downside to the loss of the big names, was that Interop was one of the last shows that gave you a chance to see what the “Monsters of IT Infrastructure” were doing, side by side, in a relatively neutral environment. For this year at least, VMworld is probably as close as you will get to the big picture.

Some of this may have to do with the conference ecosystem itself; Dell EMC World was the previous week in Las Vegas, with HPE Discover the first full week of June and Cisco Live US the last full week of June. These events often occupy speakers and exhibition staffs for weeks if not months beforehand, and the big players also had events like Strata Hadoop World in London to cope with as well. (See Stephen Foskett’s Enterprise IT Calendar for a sense of the schedule.)

Will the “Monsters of IT” come back next year?

I’d like to see them return, as fresh interest and opportunity is a good way to sustain growth, but I have a feeling that focusing on their owned-and-operated events and away from the few (one?) remaining general IT infrastructure event is likely to continue. They may just field speakers for the content tracks and assume that people will come to them anyway.

Meanwhile,  smaller players will continue to grow. While they appear to just be nipping at the heels of the big players, they’re building a base and a reputation in the community, and they don’t need to beat the Cisco/Dell/HPE scale vendors to succeed. So maybe everyone wins.

But what about InteropNet?

The earliest memory I have of Interop, from my 2013 visit, was finding a pair of Nortel Passport (nee Avaya ERS) 8600 routing switches in the InteropNet network. InteropNet has been a demonstration platform that brought together a wide range of vendors including routing and switching, wireless, and software layers (monitoring and management in particular), and it was noticeably absent this year as well.

Part of this may be due to the smaller size of the Business Hall, but part is also due to the cost (time and money at least) of setting up and operating the multivendor environment. The absence of most of the enterprise network hardware vendors may also have played into it, although I don’t know if that was a cause or an effect. As fascinating as Extremo the Monkey was, I don’t think an all-Extreme Networks InteropNet would have really demonstrated interoperability that well.

I didn’t talk to any of the network vendors who weren’t there, but some of the software layer vendors were unabashedly disappointed by the loss of InteropNet. It’s one thing to show a video recording or demo over VPN back to a lab somewhere, but it’s a much more convincing story to show how your product or service would react to a real world environment that your prospective customer is a part of, at that moment.

There were a number of OEM/ODM type network (and server) manufacturers, as well as software-defined networking companies like Cumulus and 128 Networks, but I think at least one big name would have to be there to make InteropNet work. Two or three would make it even better.

One interesting thought to make InteropNet more interesting and practical would be for a hardware refurbisher or reseller to bring in gear from the big names and set it up. Whether it’s ServerMonkey or another vendor of that class, or even a broad spectrum integrator like Redapt, it would be a good way to show a less-than-bleeding-edge production-grade environment that might appeal more to the half of the attendees whose companies are smaller than 1000 people. It would be a great opportunity for companies like that to showcase their consulting and services offerings as well.

Looking into the rsts11 crystal ball…

I don’t remember any mention of venue for next year, but I would guess some rooms and locations would be tweaked to optimize MGM Grand for InteropITX 2018. It’s very convenient for economical rooms and minimal leaving-the-hotel-complex requirements for attendees.

The new tracks structure worked, for the most part, although I expect adjustment and evolution in the content. Don’t be surprised if more hands-on sessions come around. Even though wireless tech was in short supply in the Business Hall, it was very popular in the breakouts.

I’m not expecting the Monsters of IT to have a resurgence in 2018, although it might be a good thing if they did. More security, management and automation, and some surprising new startups, are more likely to find their way into the Business Hall.

Where do we go from here?

I was asked at Interop for suggestions on how to make InteropNet more practical next year. I had some ideas above, but I could use some help. Do you feel that it was an unfortunate omission, or were you more inclined toward “I wouldn’t say I was missing it, Bob” ??

We’ll have some more coverage in the next couple of weeks, including another update on NBase-T network technology (which made a much more substantial showing in terms of available-to-buy-today offerings this year), so stay tuned to our “interop” tag for the latest.

And of course, while it’s too early for me to apply for media credentials, it’s not too early to start thinking about InteropITX 2018.

Registration isn’t quite ready yet, but you can sign up to be notified (and get updates on submitting to present next year as well!). Click above or visit interop.com to join the notification list today!

Disclosure: I attend InteropITX as independent media, unrelated to and unaffiliated with my day job. Neither UBM/InteropITX nor any vendor covered have influence over or responsibility for any of my coverage.

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What verse are we on? The fifth! Back at Interop ITX Las Vegas

I’m back in Las Vegas for my fourth time this MLife season, and my fifth time at Interop (now Interop ITX). And it’s a little bit different this year. [Disclosures below]

Quick takes:

The most obvious change is the venue; they announced at the end of Interop 2016 that the event would move to MGM Grand’s Conference Center, one  Las Vegas block down the Strip from its previous home at Mandalay Bay. This means a smaller, more focused event, as MGM has a smaller facility than Mandalay, but it likely also means more affordable accommodations at the event hotels. (I would have enjoyed an extra Amex FHR stay at Delano, but Signature at MGM is good enough.)

Some staff changes have happened, particularly Meghan Reilly taking the reins of the event from Jennifer “JJ” Jessup, who moved on to a different company and role after last year’s event. JJ and the team encouraged me to stay involved with the event even after going to the Dark Side, and I’m grateful for her influence over the past few years. But I haven’t seen any fallout from the transition yet. The staff keeps things going, even with the traditional Monday hiccups on food and beverage logistics.

There also seems to be more of a focus on the educational content as opposed to the expo floor. Well over a dozen in-depths events will occupy each day Monday and Tuesday, with prominent names from various corners of the IT ecosystem. The “Business Hall” is still there, and will have about a hundred exhibitors according to the Interop website, but people have noticed many of the big names of past years scaled back or passing on the event altogether.  I’ve also seen some of my perennial favorites sit this one out.

I would say both of these items are good, for various reasons. While it was beneficial to have the Monsters of IT(tm) on the floor pitching their latest wares, I would expect this year to allow more of a focus on new, more agile, more adaptable players in the market. And with what seems (to me at least) to be a stronger focus on content vs exhibitors, the event becomes even more of a unique, substantially community-driven, substantially vendor-independent tech conference.

It’s true that if you want to see Cisco, Dell, and HP side by side, you’re mostly out of luck unless you find a third party proprietary conference (like VMworld or SAP Sapphire), but I expect that increased exposure to the new and rising players will have a positive effect on some of the larger companies. As each of the giants realizes they can’t differentiate based on their own true believers alone–and to be honest, that’s the core of each vendor’s own conference–perhaps they’ll come back to the table.

It’s also true that, if you are looking for more general IT and technology coverage than the USENIX events offer, especially around the business and culture side of IT, Interop ITX is pretty much the only game left in town.

Where do we go from here?

I’ll be heading into some content today and tomorrow, in between working on some other slides and writing. If you’re brave, follow me on Twitter at @gallifreyan for realtime observations, or if you’re attending Interop ITX, follow me on the app.

Disclosure: I attend Interop as independent media, on personal vacation time, not under the auspices of my day job. Tech Field Day generously brought me here my first two years, but for the past three years inclusive, I have attended on my own dime (although Interop does provide media attendees with lunch and coffee as well as full access to the conference). Any opinions in my coverage of the event are mine alone, and have not seen prior review by anyone involved in the event.

Further disclosure: autocorrect is being religious as I write this on my iPad. JJ’s last name became Jesus quite often, and apparently Apple wants Interop to have a stronger focus on convent. I’ll have nun of that, thank you.

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now – are they just vapor?

For those of you not of a certain age… a bit of a soundtrack for this post.

 

 

I wrote last month about the “antsle” “personal cloud server,” and a few people on Minds had a brisk but respectful debate over whether it was cloud, and whether there was more to cloud than cloud storage (i.e. Dropbox, Box, Owncloud, OneDrive, Sugarsync, etc).

It got me to thinking about how I’d define “cloud” and why others feel differently. So here’s a bit of a soft-topic consideration for you along the way.

I was first exposed to the buzzword around 2009, when a major PC and IT gear reseller from the midwest was trying to convince me on every call and email thread that I should buy The Cloud(tm). My rep never could tell me why, or what problem it would solve, a common shortcoming of quota-bound sales reps. I think the closest to a justification I ever got was “Just give a try, you’ll be able to tell where you can use it.” And I didn’t.

As the current decade rolled along, anyone running the server side of a client/server model called themselves The Cloud(tm). And of course, Amazon Web Services and other players came along to give their own definitions and market shares to the matter.

Today, at its extreme interpretation, anything not running in focus on your current personal device is probably considered “cloud” by someone. And to be fair to antsle, that’s where they fit in a way.  Continue reading

Using your voice, Babylon or not

As part of my six-year anniversary of rsts11, I’ve had some time to reflect on why I do this, and why I do social media as well.

This blog post has a bit of a soundtrack… feel free to play it and then read on…

Every so often in my blogging and social media career, something happens that’s humbling. Being chosen for Tech Field Day about six years ago, being invited to leave my Cisco ears at home for another event, things like that. But one of the most humbling and rewarding things is when someone thanks me for speaking up or sharing things.

Sometimes it’s sharing a perspective that someone might not have considered before, whether it’s my perspective or someone else’s. Sometimes it’s answering (or asking) questions that are difficult and others might not have the leeway to ask or address because of work or family constraints. Sometimes it’s putting a contentious or infamous issue into context for friends and professional relations. And once last year was someone thanking me for inspiring them to speak up, to express their opinions even though they didn’t follow a particular pattern that the social media sphere was trying to enforce.

I’ve lost a few followers on Twitter and probably a “friend” or five on Facebook as a result of being open and occasionally noisy over the past two or three years. I’ve gained a few “friends” and doubled my twitter followers over the same period of time. And I’ve seen some “thought leaders” who outsource their twitter controls to third party block lists disappear from my scope of reference. (Me, I respect thought leaders who think for themselves.) All things considered, it’s not been a bad couple of years.

I don’t think I’m getting too full of myself here. I’m a lifelong technologist with a quirky sense of humor and a LOT of coffeemakers. No number of retweets and puns will change that.

But it does make me feel good to think that some of my friends and my “friends” will see things they might not see otherwise, and take a moment to think about them because I reflected them. Most of the people I interact with understand and accept that not everything I share is 100% my opinion, and the rest might figure it out someday.

I don’t have a bully pulpit and hundreds of thousands of followers hanging on my every word. With the number of typos I’ve made lately, I’m kinda glad. But if I can make a couple of people happier, more comfortable with themselves and their thoughts, or more aware of the world around them, I feel like I’ve gone beyond a tech blogger and done something good, however minute by proportion, for the world.

And maybe I’ll learn something more about you in the process too.

That’s all for now. Be excellent to each other.

Resource sharing, time sharing, six years on

Six years ago today, I hit “publish” or whatever it was called at the time on a blog post:

rsts11-first-post

With a goal to tie my technology, culture, caffeine, and gadget history, experience, and sometimes expertise together in something that was entertaining and useful to read, I launched rsts11 on January 28, 2011.

digital-microandmem

Over a hundred posts later, it’s still chugging along. Along the way, I’ve butted heads with some vendors about online behavior and firmware availability and the definition of the word “free,” shared my Tech Field Day experiences until I was no longer able to do so, announced my migration to the dark side when I retired from system administration to work in a sales organization at a vendor (which is why I was no longer able to be a TFD delegate), brought you coffee and gadgets, and most recently on New Year’s Eve 2016, spawned a travel-focused blog with a slightly less technical focus than rsts11 itself.

I’ve had a number of great experiences made possible by the blog, including participating in Interop, the Spectra Summit, Asigra’s partner summit, and a few other things here and there. I’ve managed to keep a bit of my independent presence despite working for a megalithic technology company, and it’s helped me keep my tech chops at least lukewarm in between fifty person WebEx calls to discuss whether to have another meeting with a different fifty people… you know how it goes.

So where do we go from here?

What’s ahead for the next hundred posts? I’ve decided that I really need to stop buying gear “to write about on the blog” until I catch up on the room full of stuff I have to catch up on already. Some of the next hundred posts will be on rsts11travel of course, including some hotel reviews (and some better photos, which might mean some return visits to a couple of hotels). And I’m still pondering the video blog or podcast idea, although I’d need to come up with a lot more interesting stuff to talk about off the cuff.

 

Do you have suggestions for upcoming posts? Weird gear ideas for me to investigate? A favorite post from rsts11 that’s helped you in your work or pub games? Share in the comments below.