Channel Marker

Sep 19 2008   2:31PM GMT

Interop: Are tradeshows dead?

rivkalittle Rivka Little Profile: rivkalittle

I was truly confused Wednesday morning when I jumped off the bus near the Jacob Javits Center in New York for Interop and saw armies of tight skirts and multi-colored stilettos trotting up the ramp to the convention center. This is not IT conference wear. These are not tech rats. No wrinkled khakis. Too many cutesy chicks.

Inside, I realized the heels were heading to a very lively couture show while I was heading to a pretty slow and somber Interop. And in order to get there, I had to pass under the mammoth television monitor booming Bloomberg News and its reports of plunging markets and failing banks.

It’s unclear whether sour economic news or skyrocketing airfares were contributors, but there were times that the Interop show floor was so quiet you could whisper sweet nothings. Not that you should ever do that on a trade show floor.

It should be noted that Interop Las Vegas in the spring was huge and booming, and that Interop New York is traditionally smaller than its casino-like cousin. But there was something else going on.

As one vendor on the show floor prattled on about greening IT, I realized how bizarre it was to have that conversation under hot lights on a trade show floor with buzzing display monitors, loud speakers and makeshift servers scattered about. The place was a power-guzzling pit. And that’s not to mention all the gas wasted on air travel and shipping thousands of pounds of cardboard, plastic and random race cars for booth displays.

One Cisco executive put it best.

“We don’t do these tradeshows the way we used to. Cisco does a lot of it virtually now. And we use our own technology like telepresence to meet with people. Folks are crunched to travel,” he said.

The executive and I then reminisced about the days of Supercomm and Interop old when vendors had dual-floor booths (some with mini-elevators built in). Cisco’s booth at Interop New York was large but bare bones.

Still, there is something to be said for the human touch. It allows for the surprise meeting, the fervent sales pitch and the heated conference session debate. And all of that was alive and well at Interop New York. In fact, twice I heard someone standing at a booth saying something like, “I think that application might work for us.”

My personal Interop human touch highlights were:

In the last hour of the final day of the show, exhausted and grumpy, I came across kablink, the open source collaboration project that is the basis of Novell’s Teaming offering. With a limited marketing budget and only a couple of sets of feet on the road, kablink’s “community guy” Brent McConnell (that’s really his title) would never have otherwise been able to show me all of the cool mashup capabilities and integrated application potential kablink has to offer.

I also got a chance to sit in a quiet conference room with ProCurve distinguished technologist Manfred Arndt to learn about implementing power over Ethernet (PoE) for VoIP phones and the need to build vendor ecosystems to cross-certify product for complicated unified communications and collaboration solutions.

In the end, the answer to the question of whether tradeshows will — or should — die is: Maybe not. Maybe they should just tone down and thin out.

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