The world of computer shows has always been weird, but now it seems to be coming full circle. Twenty five years ago you went to technical symposiums put on by your primary vendor – if you ran Prime, you went to the Prime show, if you ran DEC, you went to DECUS. I have many fond memories of heavily bearded men walking around in suspenders and an excessive amount of brown colored clothes talking about 11/780’s – until they found the TTI booth that is. TTI was one of those quasi-OEM types who really are integrators but they figured out how to put an 8mm Exabyte tape drive onto a VAX – and even better is the guy who owned the place was married to the sister of Barbara Bach (who was married to Ringo Starr at the time) who was smoking hot (even if it weren’t a DECUS) so there was always quite a crowd at the TTI booth.
Anyhow, we went through this transition in the show biz from vendor specific events, to industry events. As specialization of function began to occur, specialization of shows was thought to be too myopic, so big industry gigs were launched. Comdex, Interop, SNW, etc. all had their time. Now, we’ve moved past industry specialization, further down into sub-functional specialization – and the show tunes are changing again.
EMC exhibits at everything including the flower and plant expo as far as I can see. It took them 25 years of business to become their own sub-culture – big enough to merit its own show. EMC World had 9,000 people attend this year. RSA has 17,000. VMworld just had about 11,000. That’s 37,000 folks who came to see EMC owned stuff – in EMC’s own shows! Symantec’s Vision has tons of attendees, as does CA World. Storage Decisions is next week, and if there are 300-400 real IT folks, it’s a hit. SNW is shortly thereafter, and no one ever really knows how many real IT folks will be there, but it ain’t gonna be 9,000. It will mostly be the same 2000 industry folks that are always there, doing the modern equivalent of looking for the TTI booth.
I’m not sure industry specialization is going to be relevant for much longer – at least in show biz. We’ve got more storage analysts than the rest of the industry combined I think, and there isn’t a single ESG’er speaking at this show, and it isn’t because we didn’t try. (Don’t fret, we’ll still be there in force, you can stop calling – and no, I’m not sure why, but looking at the agenda it appears to be 87% vendor speakers, and yes, I am going to be in Germany.). Vendor speakers? If that’s what I want to see 87% of, then I’ll go to the vendor show! The worst part is that some of these very nice people giving pitches are simply awful speakers, and the show people know it. It’s a recipe for trouble. A bad speaker shows up at VMworld (other than Diane Greene) and you’ll not see them again next year. Joe Tucci is no Tom Mendoza with a microphone, but those vendors are true big wigs and it’s usually worth listening to what they have to say. Some product manager talking about how thick a fibre channel cable should be for 45 minutes stammering “um” every other word ain’t gonna pack in the crowd, I’m guessing.
This gets me to my point, I think. Decisions is industry based, but is at least hyper-focused in the regard that they have a room of real folks who spend real money on stuff. There just aren’t enough of them. Inevitably, I think these kinds of shows either must adapt to new realities, or simply go away. If you want to do business development in the storage market, SNW is the place to be. Maybe that’s what they should focus on – lower the costs for all concerned, and take advantage of what they have. (Don’t get me wrong, it’s the best show on the planet for ESG – most of the people are our clients so it is very convenient for meetings). Decisions will have to come up with a different angle eventually – drop the costs for sponsorship or something, or else the vendors are going to go where the money is. Tek-Tools, an SRM player out of Texas told me they got 1200 leads at VMworld – and it cost them the same as SNW or Decisions. I’m not that smart, but it seems the math is kind of easy. They are smart folks, so they must see this.
The real problem these folks (and all the others) are going to face eventually is the web. People go to shows to learn something and hopefully connect with peers who live in their worlds – who have already crossed a bridge that they face. It’s often that one little tidbit of information that you get that can save your bacon – and that’s what makes it all worthwhile. Getting that answer hasn’t been easy without shows like this historically – but the web 2.0 phenomenon is going to change all that. If Google worked in a specialty mode (i.e. it actually found you the right answer, not all 11 billion possible answers), then you wouldn’t need to get on a plane to try and find out why this array crashes this operating system when performing this read on that database.