Mark your calendars: trade shows worth your time in 2007

From monster events to boutique conferences, we highlight the best bets

There’s a reason Comdex went away, and it wasn’t the overpriced Las Vegas hotel rooms.

Comdex, once the mother of all IT-related events, faded away after its last season in 2003, too big for its own good. Maybe showcasing padded laptop bags next to enterprise switches wasn’t such a great idea after all.

Today the trend among industry events is toward focus; conferences such as the gadget-happy Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and network-centric Interop exemplify that with a little bit of tailoring a trade show can offer real value. But, some would argue that as successful shows such as these grow in size they often lose the focus that made them worthwhile in the first place.

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“The historical cycle in trade shows in the technology arena has been to bulk up as any given segment gets bigger and bigger,” says Gary Bolles, co-founder of Conferenza, a blog that tracks executive conferences in technology. “As an industry matures there is still a need for the larger get-togethers to aggregate people, but [then] it tends to segment.”

Enter the boutique event. These smaller shows with a tight focus on one aspect of technology — think VON, CTIA Wireless, RSA Conference — promise greater value and fewer sore feet than sprawling trade shows that try to be everything to everyone.

It’s the popularity of the Internet — where information on just about anything can be sliced and diced within seconds — that has brought about the focused trade show of today, says Rick Geritz, CEO of BD Metrics, makers of attendee-relationship management technology.

However, the larger shows still offer value, especially for attendees looking to investigate three or four technologies at a single event.

Today there are ways to avoid wandering aimlessly through conference halls; many shows including Interop offer conferences within a conference that stack up sessions dedicated to a topic such as network security or mobility. And companies such as BD Metrics have developed technology that attempts to make a boutique show out of a sprawling expo by highlighting only what the attendee wants to learn about — based on title, keywords, vendors they want to contact and so on — in the context of a full-content event, Geritz says.

Whether attending a boutique show that caters to your specialty or trying to make the most of a monster event, we know your time and travel dollars are precious. So we’ve scanned the IT trade show calendar for 2007 to come up with a list of events that will likely offer the most bang for your buck.

Incorporating the experiences of the Network World staff, which collectively will have attended dozens of events in 2006, following is a list of what we think will be worth your time:

Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Las Vegas, Jan. 8 – 11

CES is the new Comdex, with attendee estimates as high as 140,000 for the 2007 event. But despite its size, many show veterans say if you want to take the pulse of the industry, CES is where to do it. With 1.7 million square feet of expo space the event is giant — no doubt you’ll leave feeling you’ve missed something — but offers a great view of the intersection of the PC and entertainment industries; keynote speakers for next year’s event include Bill Gates and Michael Dell as well as the presidents of Walt Disney and CBS.

As for the show’s focus, you may need to pass by dozens of consumer gizmos before coming across something you would actually allocate budget for. At first blush enterprise IT types [] might brush off all that gadgetry as irrelevant, but as one Network World staffer puts it: “If you're an enterprise IT professional who doesn't get into the little stuff you see at CES, your boss called — he's shutting down the branch offices and wants the sales reps to work from home. OK if they pick out their own SOHO IT gear, expense it and have you support it?”

Plus there’s the celebrity citings: Justin Timberlake, Dana Carvey, Tom Hanks and Morgan Freeman all appeared in 2006, to name a few.

RSA Conference, San Francisco, Feb. 6 – 9

Going on its 16th year, the RSA Conference bills itself as the world’s largest community of information security professionals. Conference tracks delve deep into security technology, with 2007’s event covering aspects such as authentication and developing with security. However, despite the technical depth of the content, it’s easy to get lost in the noise of this conference with the “increasingly Mardi Gras-like parade of vendors, speeches, presentations and other events that may overwhelm the attendee,” says one Network World reporter.

Any vendor that’s remotely serious about security will be on hand. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison will take the stage for the first time at this event, as well as perennial keynote speakers Bill Gates and, of course, the head of RSA Security, now owned by EMC. The theme for the 2007 conference is “celebrating the influence of 15th-century Renaissance man Leon Battista Alberti, who created the polyalphabetic cipher,” according to the Web site. Perhaps more interesting will be the vendor-sponsored Texas hold `em contest.

IBM’s SHARE User Events, Tampa, Fla., Feb. 11 – 16 and San Diego, Aug. 12 - 17

User events can be tricky; they need to be technical enough to get some serious questions answered, but broad enough to still be interesting. Past attendees say the quality of the technical sessions at SHARE User Events is high and the access to IBM engineers and executives is impressive. Perhaps that’s because the event is organized by SHARE, which is an independent, volunteer-run IBM user association.

The event, which began as a gathering of mainframe users and has been going on for more than 50 years, bills itself as a place where IBM users can influence future product direction and glimpse new technology from Big Blue and its partners. It’s a biannual event; one season’s show isn’t necessarily bigger or better than the other. There also are some wacky antics — as you may expect would happen at any show that’s been running for 51 years straight — such as sing-alongs and Button Man sightings.

LinuxWorld OpenSolutions Summit, New York, Feb. 14 – 15

This new event, aimed at corporate IT professionals, is designed to reflect Linux’s move into the mainstream. The agenda is heavy on technical sessions and case studies, and stresses attendees learning from each other, instead of being shouted at by vendors.

LinuxWorld OpenSolutions Summit grew out of the LinuxWorld conference to better focus on corporate deployment of open systems in verticals — the February show will cater to financial services, healthcare, pharmaceutical, retail, media and the public sector. Topics to be covered include security, network management and interoperability, applications and best practices, virtualization, desktop, and legal issues.

(This event is organized by IDG World Expo, a sister company to Network World.)

VoiceCon, Orlando, March 5 – 8

Billing itself as the place to “build your IP telephony platform,” VoiceCon has been around for 16 years and has a concentrated audience with roughly 5,000 attending the 2006 spring event. The content also is focused, as evidenced by the speaker lineup that includes top brass from Avaya, Cisco and Nortel. Sessions will touch on technical issues such as IP-PBX system security as well as business concerns such as the organizational impact of migrating to converged networks.

Our reporters say this event has more enterprise appeal than VON and better content and speakers than Internet Telephony. The spring version of this show will be the one to attend in 2007.

CTIA Wireless, Orlando, March 27 - 29

Run by CTIA — the Wireless Association (which used to stand for the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, but the group is looking to widen its focus), this event covers the spectrum of wireless developments, but its bread and butter continues to be cell phones. Still, there are some enterprise issues on the event’s 2007 schedule, such as day-long programs dedicated to VoIP mobility and wireless data.

The spring event is the one to attend; CTIA’s fall event, called CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment, ends up being more about the latter than the former, attendees say.

But there’s still an element of hipness at the spring show — the event features a mobile fashion show of wearable electronics, and among the industry luminaries scheduled to speak are entertainment kingpins Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and Russell Simmons.

Gartner Symposium/IT Expo, San Francisco, April 22 - 26

This conference covers a wide range of technologies, business issues and management strategies, but with the benefit of the Gartner analysts’ filters; all attendees have the opportunity to meet face-to-face with as many as three Gartner analysts during the event. The speaker lineup for 2007 isn’t out yet, but this year’s event attracted the likes of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Cisco CEO John Chambers, both of whom took the stage to be grilled by Gartner analysts. And the analysts do the bulk of the presenting at the event, corralling most of the vendors to the expo floor.

The event is small and expensive; 2006’s show had 6,000 attendees, and early bird registration for the 2007 conference is $3,495. However, in addition to access to Gartner analysts, the event offers attendees access to each other. “The way the show is laid out … everybody eats breakfast and lunch together in a huge tent. This provides a great way for people to network,” says one Network World editor.

The event is open to all IT professionals, not just Gartner clients.

Web 2.0 Expo, San Francisco, April 15 – 18

This new show grew out of the Web 2.0 Conference, which has become an invitation-only event focused on next-generation Internet technologies. It is supposed to focus on the practical application of Web 2.0 principles, and will feature an expo floor as well as technical sessions and tutorials.

Skipping the big ideas behind Web 2.0 in favor of finding out how to make these technologies work sounds like a wise way to spend your travel budget.

Storage Decisions, Chicago, May 5 – 7

This highly focused event — the one in September attracted 500 storage managers — aims to interest both storage specialists as well as IT executives by covering technical and business issues related to storage. With such a small number of attendees, the event bills itself as a great place to network with “true peers.”

Little information is available about the May 2007 event, as the Web site focuses on the pending December show, which has as a theme scaling storage while managing costs. The speaker list for these shows is heavy on analysts and consultants, with some vendors and users mixed in.

Interop, Las Vegas, May 20 -25

Billing itself as the meeting place for the IP infrastructure market for the past 20 years, the spring version of Interop really can’t be missed, unlike its fall counterpart, which in 2007 will be in New York and has become something of a snoozer. Not only do the show organizers arrange programs by technology – next spring’s show promises to cover application networks, data center, infrastructure, network security, VoIP and collaboration, and wireless and mobility — but there are also boot camps tailored to specific titles such as CIO or CSO.

As expected the show took a hit in attendance following the dot-com bust and its effect on the networking industry, as well as the tightening of IT budgets that ensued. But Interop Spring 2006 saw a bit of a renaissance in interest and buzz, attracting around 18,000 attendees, according to conference organizers. Next year’s event promises more of the same.

NXTComm, Chicago, June 18 – 21

This new show is the melding of two existing events, GlobalComm (which grew out of Supercomm) and TelecomNext. Put on by a pair of associations, the Telecom Industry Association and the United States Telecom Association, this is another event billed as the place where the IT and entertainment industries converge — albeit with more of a telecom slant.

Not much is known about the event — the organizers haven’t even officially decided on a show logo yet — but predictions put the number of attendees at 22,000. Because it will fill the void left by the closing of two other shows, it’s likely to become the defacto must-attend telecom show. Hopes are that the event will regain much of the value and buzz that Supercomm enjoyed in its heyday.


If travel schedules or other inconveniences keep you from the shows listed above, consider some of these events:

InfoSec World, Orlando, March 19 – 21

If you can’t make it to the RSA Conference, InfoSec is a good alternative. A bit quieter than the RSA Conference, InfoSec also focuses on all things security and in 2007 will offer sessions on a range of topics including risk management, identity theft and endpoint security, to mention a few. There also will be a few one-day summits that drill down on specific topics, such as compliance, and a special track for CISOs. Plus, who would want to miss William Shatner’s keynote address entitled “A trek from science fiction to science fact.”?

Voice on the Network (VON), Boston, Oct. 29 – Nov. 1

Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year with roughly 10,000 attendees at the fall event, VON’s focus encompasses IP communication in the enterprise and the development of Internet-based entertainment. Speakers at this year’s fall event ran the gamut from Ted Leonsis, vice chairman of AOL, who talked about the company’s expanding video services, to enterprise types such as a network engineer at Liberty Mutual who stressed the importance of VoIP security. Next year’s fall event will cover VoIP-related topics as diverse as fixed mobile convergence and IPTV.

Storage Networking World, San Diego, April 16 – 19

Organized jointly by Network World sister publication Computerworld and the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), this relatively young event enters its ninth year in 2007. The event promises to highlight storage trends while featuring

user case studies and offering hands-on tutorials from SNIA.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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