The buzz from Boston

If the recent Network World Fusion InstaPoll results reflect a broader reality, then my experience a few weeks ago will be shared by only 26% of Fusion readers this year - I went to two trade shows. While trade show attendance has plummeted, I was surprised that more than 50% of respondents said that they've just stopped attending. Period. While sometimes a hassle, there are usually things you learn that you can't learn any other way.

The fact that I could attend two trade shows in the same week certainly says something about what has been happening. Smaller is better seems to be the mantra these days. Shows that focus on specific technologies seem to be holding their own or picking up momentum while the monster shows like NetWorld+Interop are perhaps in danger of extinction.

In late June, I made the rounds of Network Processors East and 802.11 Planet  - both running during the same week in or around Boston.

Both shows were most definitely sans glitz - and that was refreshing. The circus had left town. The shows were upbeat but all business. The wildest show element I could spot was a lone barkeep offering up draft beer at the Aruba Networks booth at the wireless show. There was no line. Attendees had too much business to attend to. This was not a boondoggle crowd.

I couldn't help thinking about what attendees had to endure just a few years ago. I can't remember which was worse, trying to have a meeting near the Packet Engines "train" booth - replete with steam whistle, or attempting to talk to Cabletron executives while the "Cabletron vs. Cisco" boxing match was taking place in the ring below us. Does anyone miss this? I don't.

The shows had double déjà vu elements. At the Network Processor East show, I heard about "merchant" processors that could do all kinds of things - including VPN termination and Layer 2 to Layer 7 switching. All the things you would have expected to hear from switch vendors Alteon, Extreme Networks and Foundry Networks at N+I a few years back.

And, every few sentences, the phrase "custom ASICs" would be thrown in.This hardware was the cornerstone of the product line. Now with this functionality still every bit as important as it was a few years ago, network processor vendors are offering it as a commodity. The fact that this level of functionality is available now at a component level is good news for end users.

If you were wondering, then, what happened to the folks hawking the then-leading-edge custom ASICs, you needn't wonder long - they've all gone into wireless - the now leading edge.

In meeting with start-ups such as Airespace, Aruba, Azimuth, Engim, Legra and Trapeze recently, it has been like attending a college reunion. I was happy to reacquaint myself with management teams I'd first gotten to know at companies such as Alteon, 3Com, Cisco, Extreme, Foundry, Nortel and so forth.

The movers-and-shakers in WLAN switching are no rookies. They know how to build and sell technology. Their excitement about their offerings - and the rejuvenation of the enterprise IT market - certainly created a nice buzz in Boston.

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