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.

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.

Overkill in the rsts11 lab workshop – a homelab update for 2017

After being chosen as a VMware vExpert for 2017 this month, I was inspired to get working on refreshing my vSphere “homelab” environment despite a busy travel month in late February/early March. This won’t be a deep technical dive into lab building; rather, I just wanted to share some ideas and adventures from my lab gear accumulation over the past year.

As a disclosure, while I do work for Cisco, my vExpert status and homelab building are at most peripherally-connected (the homelab at home connects to a Meraki switch whose license I get an employee discount on, for example). And even though I’m occasionally surprised when I use older higher end Dell or HP gear, it’s not a conflict of interest or an out-of-bounds effort. It’s just what I get a great deal on at local used hardware shops from time to time.

The legacy lab at Andromedary HQ

Also read: New Hardware thoughts for home labs (Winter 2013)

C6100

Stock Photo of a Dell C6100 chassis

Continue reading

Lowered Expectations – How Low Can Your Laptop Go?

[An Interop Aside: I visited with a couple of vendors at Interop who are sending some gear for me to explore. I’m holding off on their coverage until that happens, although another summary post may be forthcoming.]

I’m a big laptop fan. Afficionado, not cooler, mind you. It’s a problem, especially since my recent rebuild acquisitions and components are blocking the fireplace at the moment.

There’s been a disturbing trend over the last couple of years, whereby laptop manufacturers decide to move more toward the netbook specifications for memory (and often storage), rather than to the state of the art for the current generation of laptop processors. I was commiserating with my friend John Obeto about this recently.

For a couple of months now, you’ve been able to order a Dell Precision 7000-series laptop with 64GB of RAM. That’s twice as much as many desktops can handle today. And even if you don’t have room for four DIMM slots in your laptop design, DDR4 16GB SODIMMs are very affordable and readily available even at retail. So there’s really no reason for a 13″ or larger laptop to have an 8GB limit.

But it is the way of the world, for most lightweight laptops these days. Even Dell’s remarkable XPS 13 9343 maxed at 8GB – the 9350 model this year has a 16GB option but it’s online order only (and in the $2000 range as I recall). Continue reading

rsts11: Laptop memory – above and beyond!

Ever buy a spiffy new laptop, and then a few months later see that everyone else is buying laptops that take TWICE as much RAM as yours? Too late for buyer’s remorse or a return… but you can’t justify another thousand dollars for another new laptop?

I’ve been in that position twice… once with a laptop I’ve had for 4 years now, and one that’s coming up on 1 year.

UPDATE: I just remembered a third time when I managed a lucky super-upgrade to a laptop… that’s added now.

Inspiron 8200 with 2GB RAM. Pretty good for 2002 tech!

Back in 2001 or so I bought a Dell Inspiron 8200. This was a Pentium 4 Mobile based machine of the same design as the Latitude C840, about with a 1600×1200 15″ lcd, the C-series batteries (one dedicated battery bay, one battery/optical/zip/floppy/hard disk bay), one fixed (but upgradable) optical bay on the side, and a maximum of 1GB RAM. Or so I thought. Now to be honest, I sold the 8200 back in 2003, but later restocked with a short stack of Latitude C840s, which were the business spin of the same machine.

Recently when pulling one of my C840s out, I thought “I have some 1GB DDR SODIMMs. Why not try?” Turns out, while it takes longer to POST now, the C840 readily supports 2x1GB PC2700/PC3200 DIMMs for a total of 2GB RAM. You may find these sticks on close-out at consumer electronics stores… I bought out the closeout stock at 2-3 local Best Buy stores last fall.

The 8200 is still a very viable UNIX laptop, and runs XP or Windows 7 respectably if you keep it clean (I wouldn’t put Creative Suite or Mathematica on it). The docks, including one with a PCI slot, are easily available online, and while you might not want to carry it on trips with you, it’s very convenient for basic computing needs even 10 years later.

Latitude D830 with 8GB RAM? Yup.


I bought a Dell Latitude D830 with a corporate discount two jobs ago. It was as close to top-of-the-line as I could get with all the features I wanted. I’m a screen real estate addict… yes, I’m looking down my nose at your 1920×1080 display, over the top of my 1920×1200 display. Sure, it’s only 12% difference but it matters to me. I think this D830 had the second highest speed Core 2 Duo mobile chip available at the time, dedicated 256MB or 512MB video card, DVD burner, and 1920×1200 display. Three years of Complete Care and corporate-grade in-house service contract, which ended up helping at one point when the power subsystem started failing to charge, and one of my favorite features of some Dell and one Apple model–hot-pluggable modular bay batteries.

Power To The People!

My Powerbook “Pismo” had the option for two batteries, and if both batteries died and you had a third with a charge, you could close your lid, the computer would sleep, you could put another battery in and open it up and keep going. So of course I had three or four batteries. Dell has had a couple of models that supported modular bay batteries, from the Latitude C840/Inspiron 8200 (and I believe earlier C800/820 and I8000/8100) to the D800/830 line. Excellent feature, since I’m more likely to have use for an extra 2-2.5 hrs of battery life than a dvd burner on trips and in meetings/conferences. 

I bought the D830 with 2GB of RAM, knowing I could upgrade to 4GB more cheaply through Amazon or Fry’s or Crucial, than buying it pre-installed from Dell. So I did so, and bumped the hard drive up aftermarket as well.

Within less than a year came the Latitude E-series, very sleek, brushed metal case, and 8GB max RAM. I found threads like this one suggesting that BIOS rev A14 would support 4GB dimms.

The 5300, 6400, and 6500 as I recall all supported 8GB RAM on the same Core 2 Duo chips and chipsets, but when I asked my Dell rep about 8GB on my D830, he said “no dice.” So I quietly ordered the appropriate Dell part anyway, and when it arrived, I updated my BIOS and installed it. It worked, of course. I ordered another stick, and have been rocking 8GB in my D830 (with a variety of disk choices) for the last 3 1/2 years.

Sony VPCF22KFX/B with 16GB of RAM? Whoa!

Fast forward to last summer. I changed jobs, got a vacation payout, and found a Sony Vaio VPCF22KFX/B laptop on near-closeout sale at Fry’s. You can still find it at the preceding link for about $1k from Amazon (and if you buy it through my link I’ll be grateful of course), but I paid about $800 for it as memory serves. It came with a 500gb 5400rpm disk, 4GB of RAM, and the i7-2630QM processor — 4 cores, 8 threads, turbo, hyper threading, the typical power features. I bumped it up to 8GB of Patriot RAM, and a 500GB Momentus XT hard drive (500GB spinning disk with 4GB of SLC flash memory in front of it). It’s been working okay for me for the most part, but I started getting random BSODs, and in one night last week I found myself meeting over half a dozen STOP codes I’d never seen before, and a couple I had.

I did not want to believe that the laptop itself was dying, even though I have another 2 months of warranty left. So I pulled the memory and went back to the original Samsung 2GB sticks that came with it. Still got a crash every 3-5 minutes. Pulled the disk and put the original disk in, and other than having 100+ Windows Updates to execute, it worked fine. In fact, it survived three rounds of Windows Updates and three rounds of Vaio Updates. So I put the 8GB kit back in, and it was happy still.

But then I got to thinking… I’ve seen some Sandy Bridge laptops listed with 16GB, and Simon Gallagher (of vTARDIS fame) mentioned 16GB in his Macbook Pro last December. I’ve been waiting for the new Air-y Macbooks to come out hoping for 16GB capacity and a 1920px widescreen, but they’re not out yet and I was impatient. Saw a $110 16GB kit from Corsair, the CMSO16GX3M2A1333C9 to be precise, in the weekly Fry’s ad. It’s also $110 from Amazon but I hadn’t been in to Fry’s in almost 24 hours, so… I picked it up, brought it home, went to the little one’s Glee recital, and came home for a nap. After dinner, I started in on the upgrade project, slow and steady.

First step was a single 8GB dimm. I know the machine works with 8GB total, but will it handle a single 8GB dimm? Yup.

Next step, 8GB plus 4GB. Little bit risky, as the 4GB is slower than the 8GB and is the second stick. But it seemed okay with that. So, next step is obvious.

Yeah, I was thirsty. And Coca Cola has not paid me for their mention here, although if they wanted to send me a fully stocked vending machine for my store, I wouldn’t turn it down.

There we go. 16GB RAM, and it seems to be running pretty stably.

I still need to find the issue with the Momentus XT, and figure out a better disk option for this machine. I have some 60GB Pyro SSDs but I haven’t quite gotten the hang of a small internal disk on a laptop yet. So I may shell out for a 120GB SSD with rebate, or just bump up to a 500 or 640 GB 7200 spinning disk. The D830 is working well with a 640GB Caviar Blue drive, and I have a 48GB ExpressCard that I could use for high performance supplemental storage.