The Rise Of The Small Independent Conference

VMworld, arguably the main attraction of the yearly conference season in enterprise technology, starts in just under a week in San Francisco. Attending the yearly event has become something of pilgrimage for enterprise technology people keen to meet up with like-minded folk.

An emerging trend, in contrast to these vendor controlled mega-conferences, is a handful of small, focused events run by industry insiders. These events are trying to provide an independent space for technologists to meet and learn from each other about what’s really going on in the industry, instead of the more controlled message provided at a vendor run event. They follow a model used successfully by developers, particularly in Open Source, and hint at what I believe could be the start of new era of how enterprise technology is done.

The Rise of the Vendor Conference

The popularity of VMworld as a meeting place for the world’s IT geeks reflects, in part, the virtualisation trend of the past decade. As [entity display=”VMware” type=”organization” subtype=”company” active=”false” activated=”false” deactivated=”true” key=”vmware” ticker=”VMW” exchange=”NYSE” natural_id=”fred/company/5897″]VMware[/entity]’s hypervisor technology came to dominate the new virtualisation market, the ecosystem around it grew to encompass all aspects of the enterprise technology market. It’s a remarkable thing that [entity display=”VMware” type=”organization” subtype=”company” active=”false” activated=”false” deactivated=”true” key=”vmware” ticker=”VMW” exchange=”NYSE” natural_id=”fred/company/5897″]VMware[/entity] has been able to become the centre of such a disparate set of technologies, from compute, storage, networking and software. Just about every major enterprise technology vendor is a [entity display=”VMware” type=”organization” subtype=”company” active=”false” activated=”false” deactivated=”true” key=”vmware” ticker=”VMW” exchange=”NYSE” natural_id=”fred/company/5897″]VMware[/entity] partner in some capacity.
The hypervisor joined all these other technologies together, from server and storage to networking and software. In parallel, VMworld has grown to become the central meeting place for the people from these disparate niches.

Simultaneously, independent conferences have been on the wane, as the move of advertising dollars online disrupted the funding of the media companies behind the big independent conferences. The US-based COMDEX was discontinued in 2004, essentially replaced by the Consumer Electronics Show, evidence of the shift to a focus on consumer and mobile computing for large conferences. I

They’ve been replaced by vendor conferences, organised by one vendor and centred around that specific vendor’s products and partner ecosystem. The list of technology vendor conferences is long: [entity display=”EMC” type=”organization” subtype=”company” active=”false” activated=”false” deactivated=”true” key=”emc” ticker=”EMC” exchange=”NYSE” natural_id=”fred/company/1441″]EMC[/entity] World ([entity display=”EMC” type=”organization” subtype=”company” active=”false” activated=”false” deactivated=”true” key=”emc” ticker=”EMC” exchange=”NYSE” natural_id=”fred/company/1441″]EMC[/entity]), VMworld([entity display=”VMware” type=”organization” subtype=”company” active=”false” activated=”false” deactivated=”true” key=”vmware” ticker=”VMW” exchange=”NYSE” natural_id=”fred/company/5897″]VMware[/entity]), [entity display=”Dell” type=”organization” subtype=”company” active=”false” activated=”false” deactivated=”true” key=”dell” natural_id=”fred/company/1260″]Dell[/entity] World ([entity display=”Dell” type=”organization” subtype=”company” active=”false” activated=”false” deactivated=”true” key=”dell” natural_id=”fred/company/1260″]Dell[/entity]), Ignite ([entity display=”Microsoft” type=”organization” subtype=”company” active=”false” activated=”false” deactivated=”true” key=”microsoft” ticker=”MSFT” exchange=”NASDAQ” natural_id=”fred/company/2854″]Microsoft[/entity]), re:Invent (AWS), Cisco Live (Cisco), HP Discover (HP), Dreamforce ([entity display=”Salesforce.com” type=”organization” subtype=”company” active=”false” activated=”false” deactivated=”true” key=”salesforce” ticker=”CRM” exchange=”NYSE” natural_id=”fred/company/3714″]Salesforce.com[/entity]), Insight ([entity display=”NetApp” type=”organization” subtype=”company” active=”false” activated=”false” deactivated=”true” key=”netapp” ticker=”NTAP” exchange=”NASDAQ” natural_id=”fred/company/3039″]NetApp[/entity]) and [entity display=”Oracle” type=”organization” subtype=”company” active=”false” activated=”false” deactivated=”true” key=”oracle” ticker=”ORCL” exchange=”NYSE” natural_id=”fred/company/3247″]Oracle[/entity] OpenWorld ([entity display=”Oracle” type=”organization” subtype=”company” active=”false” activated=”false” deactivated=”true” key=”oracle” ticker=”ORCL” exchange=”NYSE” natural_id=”fred/company/3247″]Oracle[/entity]) to name just a few.
Newer startup companies are getting in on the act, setting up their own conferences, such as Nutanix’s NEXT and Veeam’s VeaamON. It’s almost a rite of passage; having your own conference is a way of saying “we’ve arrived, take us seriously.”

Independent Events

Against this backdrop are a few well-connected industry insiders who are trying a very different approach to [entity display=”tech” type=”channel” active=”false” activated=”false” deactivated=”true” key=”technology” natural_id=”channel_3″]tech[/entity] industry events. The most famous is the [entity display=”Tech” type=”channel” active=”false” activated=”false” deactivated=”true” key=”technology” natural_id=”channel_3″]Tech[/entity] Field Day (http://techfieldday.com/) series of events, started by Stephen Foskett in 2009. Each event brings together a group of deliberately named delegates to hear about enterprise technology from a set of vendors who collectively sponsor the event. With an extremely technical focus, analyst opinions and sales pitches are frowned upon (sometimes aggressively) in favour of company CTOs diving deep into the technology behind their products. Vendor employees are disqualified from participating as delegates to enforce independence, and they are selected from the somewhat nebulously defined influencers of the enterprise IT industry.

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