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.
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.