Cloud Expo 2010: Insights and Sentiments

By Tom Tabor

April 29, 2010

Cloud(y) Expo in NYC

Conference info:

Date:                            April 19-22, 2010
Location:                     NYC, Javits Convention Center used about 1/3 of the venue
Attendance:                3500 (organizers promoted 5000 would attend)
Exhibitors:                  120
High-End related;    >25% (SMBs are their main Cloud Computing target market.)

In many ways, Cloud Expo was the embodiment of the cloud computing space itself—high energy, diverse, but when you get right down to it—all over the place, disorganized, and in some ways, a little unwelcoming.

As you probably gathered, I had really mixed impressions about this event. On first impression, the event hits you as a wildly successful conference and tradeshow. Cloud is indeed the current buzz word for IT and it clearly lent its pull to this event. The sheer size of something like this for cloud is impressive – though it wasn’t without its problems. Despite the appearance of the successful atmosphere they were trying to provide, I’d be very surprised if the organizers didn’t receive some very well-founded complaints. 

Let me start with some of the comments  I gathered during my interviews with both attendees and exhibitors before I move out to give you some of my own impressions.

I spoke with two attendees from investment banking firm Allen & Co (names withheld at their request). This is a firm that does most of the big Hollywood acquisition deals. They would only give me their overall perceptions of the event and I was lucky to get that – corporate policy forbade them from speaking to me period! Over 60% of the exhibitors were of no interest to them, but those they were interested in had particular products/services they would be using for their deployment. Currently they had no cloud or grid, but they did have a virtualized environment. Their cloud deployment timeline was at around 6-8 months, which as they said, “no rush in getting started. We’ll start with non-mission critical stuff and work our way up. But, we will be deploying something…., “Security latency, storage and data transfer are our biggest concerns. Oh yeah, and compliance.”

No surprise here. Since what they were looking for was relatively specific, they spent more time in the exhibits due to “most of the conference being vendor pitches and a bit too shallow.”

This was the common response I got from the others I interviewed. It was a good tradeshow but the conference program was pretty shallow. I’m used to very solid and informative academic conferences and there wasn’t the kind of depth of topic at this event. In terms of the general content and the other discussions I had, there were several recurring end-user concerns that stood out: standardization, governance, regulatory compliance, latency, security and vendor viability. Again no surprise, these are the Top 6 for cloud as a whole.

Where this event hit its stride was on the vendor/exhibitor side—this is where I got a lot of positive exhibitor feedback, just as you might expect from an event this size: good show, good traffic, good leads. There were few high-end attendees–mostly from retail and financial services, which is to be expected in NYC. Otherwise, attendees were mostly SMBs. Users overall were at various stages of deployment with many of them doing preliminary research for the purpose of moving into the cloud.

Having said that, I thought there was a lot of confusion on the show floor. There was everything for every type of cloud, regardless the size and color.  Now this might sound good on the surface – something for everyone – but the practicality ends there. Imagine going to an IT show and the vendor wares covering everything from PCs to HPC, for every possible application and everything else in between. Hence the 60% no-interest comment I got from Allen & Co. This seemed frustrating for both vendors and attendees trying to maximize their floor time.

Many of the vendors at this event were service providers who used EC2 or Google as the infrastructure, RightScale as the management platform and specialized in some minor system aspect or application… cloud VARs if you will. It’ll be interesting to see who’s still standing after 1-2 years. This emphasizes user concers about vendor viability—after all, if you’re going to invest in their technology you’d like to have them around for a while for scalability and support.
One of the more controversial frustrating aspects: The show floor closed from noon to 3.25pm daily. This is great for exhibitors who participated in the conference program, but for those who didn’t it was like shutting down their store for 3+ hours in mid day! That was amazing to me. As an attendee, I don’t need a 3+ hour lunch break; I came across country to chat with vendors. Adding a bit of salt to the wound, as I mentioned before, the conference program was a bit shallow.  The outcome: During the event I never got behind on email and had 3 marvelously long lunches.

Another shortcoming, though minor, I thought that the exhibits program was a mess – you had to really research the exhibits program to find anyone. For instance, they listed their sponsors – platinum, gold, sugar plum etc (5 different levels, so it seemed) then they listed the general exhibitors. While that works and sponsors who ante up big bucks should get up-front, special recognition in the program, it certainly seems like the actual attendees were not first in the minds of the program creators. To further complicate matters, many sponsors who were listed up front under the sponsor categories, were NOT listed in the general, alpha listing of exhibitors. So there was no master alpha list of exhibitors. Not fun when you crisscrossing a show floor at the end of the day trying to find a vendor.  As a publisher, I can keenly understand the need to create distinction for their big sponsors, however the format was very inconvenient for attendees.

Very telling were the cloud players who were missing in action at this event – IBM, HP, Dell, SGI, and Platform. I understand many came with their partners. (BTW – Amazon EC2 and Google both only had small 10×10 booths.) I have a feeling this will change in Santa Clara.

On a fun note, I ran into a bunch of my old grid comrades.

Ahmar Abbas formerly from Grid Technology Partners and a former GRIDtoday contributor, now with CSS an enterprise optimization and services company. Betsy Zikakas who used to be with Avaki Sys (remember them?) and is now with cloud management leader RightScale. And of course, I ran into Rich Welner, Chief Scientist with Univa. They’re Univa now and they were Univa in the Grid days. One of the few companies who really talked about user applications vs just system management.

Problems aside, at some point we’ve got to draw a bottom line and here it is – This was an effective event but the execution could have been much better. Ultimate comment and most telling of all – the attendees felt the got what they came for and the vendors I interviewed said that they plan to come back and be at the Santa Clara event (Nov 1-4, 2010.) Would I go back to their NYC event?  Will I be at the November event in San Jose?  ABSOLUTELY!  For an early cloud event, they had their problems, but I thought there was enough there to make it worth my while.

Did you attend the event?  What did you think?

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