Lessons From My First Major Conference

Last week, I attended my first major IT conference in San Francisco.  I learned a few lessons from the mistakes that I made when planning my trip and scheduling my sessions that I need to keep in mind for next year.

  1. Arrive early –  When booking my flights to San Francisco, I ended up on the last flight out of Appleton on Sunday with a scheduled arrival time of 11:00 PM San Francisco time.  That flight was canceled, and I was fortunate enough to get a flight directly out of O’Hare on Monday morning so that I could arrive before my first breakout session began.  I was landing just as the general session, and the latest product announcements, were beginning.  Aside from missing out on the general session on Monday morning, I also missed out on meeting with vendors in the Solutions Exchange and some networking events like vBeers on Sunday evening. 
  2. Don’t Pack Too Much –  I packed for my trip like it was a normal business trip.  That was a mistake since I flew with carry-on sized luggage.  I didn’t realize how many vendors would be giving out t-shirts, and I had to literally cram everything into my suitcase just to get it back home.  I would have been able to get away with packing less and using some of those shirts during the conference.
  3. Don’t Schedule Yourself into a Corner –  There is a lot to do an see at the conference, and there are sessions covering almost anything you want to learn.  Don’t schedule yourself into a corner by booking yourself solid.  You need time to get lunch, work the vendor floor, take part in community generated content like vBrownbag sessions, or even follow up on emails from $work.  The schedule builder tools are nice for laying out your day, but don’t be afraid to switch things up.  Also, you need to consider travel time –  walking from Moscone West to the Marriott is a lot longer than it looks on the map.
  4. Know What You Want from Vendors – The Solutions Exchange is HUGE. It took up most of the exhibition space in Moscone South.  It was extremely overwhelming the first time I walked through it, and I didn’t know where to begin.  Having an idea of what specific needs you want to address or what would interest your co-workers/colleagues/friends/family will help you narrow down which booths to stop into.  Obviously, there isn’t enough time to stop in to all of them, so you have to be a little discerning and hit up the vendors that meet your needs or interests first before exploring. 
  5. Corollary to Last Point –  Don’t stop by a vendor (or let them scan your badge) just because they’re drawing for a cool prize.  The last thing you need is another sales call for some product that you know nothing about.  (Some vendors…cough…Veeam…cough…do offer some very interesting contests with great prizes that involve attending events or technical sessions to learn more about their product.  It’s creative and it actually teaches you about the product.)
  6. Make Time to Spend Time on the Vendor Floor – This kind of goes without saying.  Because there is so much going on at the conference, you need to make sure you schedule time to talk to the vendors that are on your list.  Work that time into your schedule, and make sure you give yourself enough time to talk as a good conversation can turn into a 20 minute demonstration.
  7. Group Discussions are Great for Networking –  Group discussions are a great opportunity to sit down with VMware engineers and other users of a particular product/service and ask questions or see how others are addressing issues in their environment.  They’re more personal than the general breakout sessions.  If I get the chance in the future, I plan on attending more of these types of sessions at future conferences.
  8. Take Time to Enjoy the Local Culture –  I’ll be honest when I say that I didn’t mind the food at the conference.  It was much better than I expected for a kitchen that had to serve over 22,000 people. But there are a lot of good places around the Moscone Center that offer good food for a reasonable price.  It’s also worth making some time in the evening to explore the city and check out the sites like Fisherman’s Wharf. 


What Does the Software-Defined Data Center Suite Mean For Managed Services Providers

If one thing has been made clear by the general sessions at this year’s VMWorld, it’s that the cloud is now here to stay, and VMWare and other vendors are providing tools to manage the cloud, where ever it might reside, and the machines that run on it.

The second general session of this year’s VMWorld focused on two tools in the vCloud Suite:  vCloud Automation Center, which handles infrastructure and application provisioning to turn IT into a service, and vCloud Operations Management, which handles monitoring and remediation of problems.  These tools, as well as some other tools in the vCloud Suite, tie in closely with both vSphere and other cloud providers like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure to provide automated provisioning and management of public, private, and hybrid clouds.

As the presenters were demonstrating these products and showing how they worked together to deploy and maintain applications, I started to wonder what this meant for managed services providers who’s product was managing IT infrastructures.  These companies tend to focus on small-to-medium sized entities that don’t want to take on the additional expenses of staff, IT monitoring, or 24–hour operations.  Can this software replace these providers?

If managed services providers can’t find ways to bring additional value to their customers,they will be quickly replaced.  If software has gotten to the point where it can not only detect an issue but attempt to remediate it as well based on policies that the administrators set or perform a root cause analysis immediately to pinpoint the issues so administrators can act, then there is a significant cost savings that can be captured on the customer’s side.  Even if taking advantage of the advanced remediation provided by these software packages requires a little work to get right, the ongoing cost savings that would be generated make this sort of investment very attractive.

At $work, we currently use a managed service provider.  They provide monitoring and patching for the most critical servers in our environment, which comes out to about one third of our environment.  The rest are managed using a variety of tools such as the monitoring in vCenter and scripts.  Like many environments, the monitoring coverage is not ideal.

But when I look at the cost of expanding managed services to cover the rest of my environment, or even continuing it, and compare it to using a software solution, there’s no contest.  I can get a greater level of coverage, some level of automated remediation and intelligent baselining, and a short payback period.

Now, I realize that this won’t be implemented overnight.  These systems can be just as complex as the infrastructures they are monitoring, and they take time to learn the network and develop baselines.  But the payoff, if done right, is software that goes beyond monitoring systems to managing them for you.

Infrastructures are going to get more complex now that software-defined storage and networking are a reality and vSphere is getting application-aware features.  If managed services providers want to remain relevant, they need to bring more value to their customers, update their tools and their offerings to better support the cloud, and work more closely with their customers to understand their environments and their needs.

If they don’t, then their customers will be throwing good money after bad.

My VMworld Schedule

I’ll be attending my first VMworld at the end of the month.  My schedule focuses mainly on three areas:  Automation (PowerCLI and Puppet), VMware View, and networking.


VSVC4944  —  PowerCLI Best Practices – A Deep Dive 11:00 AM

NET1000-GD  —  vSphere Distributed Switch with Vyenkatesh Deshpande 12:30 PM

VAPP5613  —  Successfully Virtualize Microsoft Exchange Server 2:00 PM

VCM7369-S  —  Uncovering the Hidden Truth in Log Data With vCenter Log Insight 3:30 PM


SEC5755  —  VMware NSX with Next-Generation Security by Palo Alto Networks 11:00 AM

EUC4764  —  What’s New and Next for VMware Horizon View 1:00 PM

EUC5434  —  Enterprise Architecture Design for VMware Horizon View 5.2 2:30 PM

BCO5362  —  Veeam Backup & Replication v7 Deep Dive 4:00 PM

VCM5271  —  VMware and Puppet: How to Plan, Deploy & Manage Modern Applications 5:30 PM


VSVC5931  —  PowerCLI What’s New? Administrating with the CLI Was Never Easier 8:00 AM

EUC5249  —  PCoIP: Sizing For Success 10:00 AM

VSVC5511  —  Deploying vSphere with OpenStack: What It Means to Your Cloud Environment 11:00 AM

VAPP5932  —  Virtualizing Highly Available SQL Servers 12:30 PM

EUC4629  —  ThinApp 101 and what’s new in ThinApp next version 2:30 PM

EUC1006-GD  —  View with Andre Leibovici 4:00 PM


I don’t have any Thursday sessions on my schedule.  I have two good reasons for this.  The first is that the few sessions that I wanted to attend were already full.  The other reason is that I plan on sitting for the VCP on Thursday morning.  I plan to spend whatever time I have left after that talking to vendors or visiting a friend in San Diego.

Today’s Blog Roundup – (Another) Free Trip to VMWorld

Matt over at Standalone Sysadmin is reporting that Gestalt IT is sponsoring a contest to win a free trip to VMworld in San Franscisco.

Unlike most normal contests, you need to describe how you’re going to use the trip to benefit the community.

This is very similar to a contest that Jason from boche.net ran about two months ago.

I’m half-tempted to enter the contest.  Live-blogging from VMWorld would be a great experience.