Finding Value in Cisco Live 2018

The world famous Cisco Live Sign picture, 2018 edition

Another Cisco Live has come and gone. Overall it was a fun time for many. Catching up with friends. Meeting people for the first time. Enjoying the balmy Orlando weather. It was a chance to relive some great times for every one. But does Cisco Live 2018 dictate how the future of the event will go?

Packing The Schedule

Did you get a chance to attend any of the social events at Cisco Live? There were a ton. There were Tweetups and meet ups and special sessions galore. There was every opportunity to visit a lounge or area dedicated to social media presence, Boomerang videos, goofy pictures, or global outreach. Every twenty feet had something for you to do or some way for you to make an impact.

In fact, if you went to all of these things you probably didn’t have time for much else. Definitely not time for the four or five keynote addresses. Or a certification test. Or the classes and sessions. In fact, if you tried to do everything there was to do at Cisco Live, you’d probably not sleep the whole week. There’s almost as much stuff to do outside the conference sessions as there is to do in them.

But is it too much? Are the activities around the learning sessions taking away from the conference itself? Think about something like the Big Ideas theater this year. In theory, it’s a great way to get people to attend sessions that are not specifically related to tech. You can introduce new ideas, especially those that are focused more on changing the world. But you’re also competing for time away from sessions that are focused on new products or building better architectures.

Every booth in the World of Solutions is designed to draw you in and keep you there. For the sponsors of the event it’s important to have conversations about their products and solutions. For Cisco people, it’s almost like they’re competing with the sessions to give you different content or a chance to interview people. Is that how things should be? I can understand the desire of DevNet wanting to change the way people look at programmable networking, for example. But every other little booth like Cisco Advanced Services or the Emergency Response Vehicle? Those feel more like attractions designed to show off rather than educate.

Paying the Piper

And what does all this cost in the long run? Sure, I love having extra features around the conference as much as the next person. But to what end? Things don’t pay for themselves. Every conference has a budget. Every piece of entertainment and every showcase booth costs money in some way or another. And how does that all get paid for? By us, the attendees.

It’s no secret that attending conferences isn’t cheap. A full conference pass for Cisco Live is around $2,000. In the past, there were cheaper options for just attending for the people networking aspect of things. But, with the growth of DevNet and other “included” options at the conference, Cisco needed to find a way to pay for them this year.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time going into the Imagine Pass issue right now because I want to sit down and have an honest discussion with Cisco about the pros and cons of the approach. But it is very important that we examine what we’re getting for the increased cost. There has to be a significant value for people to want to be a part of the event if the costs go up. The way to do that is to create compelling reasons to want to be at Cisco Live.

The way not to do that is to lock the content behind gates. Some of the things at Cisco Live this year were placed in areas that were not easy to access. One of my personal pet peeves is the NetVet lounge. I’m going to start this off by saying that I was a NetVet for many years before I moved to Tech Field Day. I’m no longer a NetVet. However, until 2013 the NetVet lounge was one of the de facto social hangout places. Now, it’s another area where you can get coffee and snacks.

Why does the NetVet lounge bother me? Because of the placement. Front and center across the aisle from the on-site Cisco Store (which took the place of the Social Media hub from 2013). Why does the NetVet lounge get to be outside the World of Solutions? Aside from the historical reasons, I can’t think of a good reason. You need to have a full conference pass to achieve NetVet status. A full conference pass gets you into the World of Solutions. Why not have NetVets meet there?

The obvious reason is that the World of Solutions closes. Yet the NetVet lounge does too. And the hours are pretty similar. Why not move the NetVet lounge into the World of Solutions and give that space to the Social Media folks. There are no restrictions on getting into the Social Media Hub. Why not have them front and center? Again, aside from the “tradition” of having the NetVet lounge outside the World of Solutions I can’t think of a good reason.


Tom’s Take

I love Cisco Live. I realized this year that I’ve been to thirteen of them. Every year since 2006. The conference has changed and grown. The focus has shifted. But the people remain the same. With the changes in the way that the pass structure the people may not be there much longer. We, as IT professionals, need to decide what’s important and give some feedback. We need to make it constructive and honest. Point out what works and what doesn’t. Don’t whine, but offer direct criticism. We can only make the conference we want by telling the people what we need. That’s how you make Cisco Live a place to be for now and for the future.

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Cisco Live CAE and Guest Keynote Announcements

As you may have heard by now, there have been a few exciting announcements from Cisco Live 2018 regarding the venue for the customer appreciation event and the closing keynote speakers.

Across The Universe

The first big announcement is the venue for the CAE. When you’re in Orlando, there are really only two options for the CAE. You either go to the House of the Mouse or you go to Universal Studios. The last two times that Cisco Live has gone to Orlando it has been to Universal. 2018 marks the third time!

Cisco is going big this year. They’ve rented the ENTIRE Universal Studios park. Not just the backlot. Not just the side parks. They WHOLE thing. You can get your fix on the Transformers ride, visit Harry Potter, or even partake of some of the other attractions as well. It’s a huge park with a lot of room for people to spread out and enjoy the scenery.

That’s not all. The wristband that gets you into the CAE also gets you access to Islands of Adventure before the full park opens! You can pregame the party by hanging out at Hogwarts, going to Jurassic Park, or joining your favorite superheroes for a picture or two for the kids. Access to Islands of Adventure isn’t exclusive, so you’ll be there with all the other tourists from around the world but it’s a great place to hang out before the party gets going!

Note that this year you will need the new Imagine pass or the Party Pass Add-on in order to access the CAE. There is no standalone social pass option or social add-on for conference passes.

Welcome To The Future

The closing keynote speakers have also been announced. Dr. Michio Kaku and Amy Webb will be on stage talking about the future of technology and how it will be impacting our society. Given the keynote that Rowan Trollope delivered during Cisco Live Barcelona, this comes as no surprise to me.

Cisco is very much trying to show that they are getting back on the leading edge of technology and driving innovation in the market. The problem with being the “800lb Gorilla” is that you’re also big and difficult to move. IBM faced the same problem before they shed their legacy and became leaner, more future-focused company. Others that tried to follow in their footsteps were less successful and either split apart or got scooped up in mergers.

Cisco is going through a transition period after the departure of John Chambers. Chuck Robbins is turning the ship as quickly as possible, but there need to be more outwards signs that things are being done to look toward a future where hardware isn’t as important as the innovation happening in software. By bringing in two of the most well known futurists in science and technology, Cisco is sending a signal to their audience of users and investors that the focus is going to be on emerging technology. This is a bit of a gamble for Cisco but it’s hoped that things pay off for them.

Note that there are also going to be other speakers in the Big Ideas Theater on the World of Solutions floor during the event. Access to the World of Solutions is restricted behind the new Imagine pass or full conference pass. There is no Social Pass option, and the party pass add-on does not grant access to the World of Solutions floor.


Tom’s Take

The Cisco Live CAE in Orlando is pretty much a known thing. It’s nice to see all of Universal this year with access to the new attractions at Islands of Adventure. People should be able to enjoy being outside in the Florida humidity instead of the blistering Las Vegas inferno. As well, the rides are going to be fun for a large number of the attendees.

It’s also good to see future-looking keynote speakers that are going to give their viewpoints on things that will impact our lives. With two speakers, I’m expecting another “interview” style closing keynote, which isn’t quite my favorite. But this is a step in the right direction. Here’s hoping that these additions to the event make Cisco Live a great show for those that will be attending.

Ten Years of Cisco Live – Community Matters Most of All

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Hey! I made the sign pic this year!

I’ve had a week to get over my Cisco Live hangover this year. I’ve been going to Cisco Live for ten years and been involved in the social community for five of them. And I couldn’t be prouder of what I’ve seen. As the picture above shows, the community is growing by leaps and bounds.

People Are What Matter

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I was asked many, many times about Tom’s Corner. What was it? Why was it important? Did you really start it? The real answer is that I’m a bit curious. I want to meet people. I want to talk to them and learn their stories. I want to understand what drives people to learn about networking or wireless or fax machines. Talking to a person is one of the best parts of my job, whether it be my Bruce Wayne day job or my Batman night job.

Social media helps us all stay in touch when we aren’t face-to-face, but meeting people in real life is as important too. You know who likes to hug. You find out who tells good stories. Little things matter like finding out how tall someone is in real life. You don’t get that unless you find a way to meet them in person.

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Hugging Denise Fishburne

Technology changes every day. We change from hardware to software and back again. Routers give way to switches. Fabrics rise. Analytics tell all. But all this technology still has people behind it. Those people make the difference. People learn and grow and change. They figure out how to make SDN work today after learning ISDN and Frame Relay yesterday. They have the power to expand beyond their station and be truly amazing.

Conferences Are Still King

Cisco Live is huge. Almost 30,000 attendees this year. The Mandalay Bay Convention Center was packed to the gills. The World of Solutions took up two entire halls this year. The number of folks coming to the event keeps going up every year. The networking world has turned this show into the biggest thing going on. Just like VMworld, it’s become synonymous with the industry.

People have a desire to learn. They want to know things. They want high quality introductions to content and deep dives into things they want to know inside and out. So long as those sessions are offered at conferences like Cisco Live and Interop people will continue to flock to them. For the shows that assemble content from the community this is an easy proposition. People are going to want to talk where others are willing to listen. For single sourced talks like Cisco Live, it’s very important to identify great speakers like Denise Fishburne (@DeniseFishburne) and Peter Jones (@PeterGJones) and find ways to get them involved. It’s also crucial to listen to feedback from attendees about what did work and what they want to see more of in the coming years.

Keeping The Community Growing

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One thing that I’m most proud of is seeing the community grow and grow. I love seeing new faces come in and join the group. This year had people from many different social circles taking part in the Cisco Live community. Reddit’s /r/networking group was there. Kilted Monday happened. Engineering Deathmatches happened. Everywhere you looked, communities were doing great things.

As great as it was to see so many people coming together, it’s just as important to understand that we have to keep the momentum going. Networking doesn’t keep rolling along without new ideas and new people expressing them. Four years ago I could never have guessed the impact that Matt Oswalt (@Mierdin) and Jason Edelman (@JEdelman8) could have had on the networking community. They didn’t start out on top of the world. They fought their way up with new ideas and perspectives. The community adopted what they had to say and ran with it.

We need to keep that going. Not just at Cisco Live either. We need to identify the people doing great things and shining a spotlight on them. Thankfully, my day job affords me an opportunity to do just that. But the whole community needs to be doing it as well. If you can just find one person to tell the world about it’s a win for all of us. Convince a friend to write a blog post. Make a co-worker join Twitter. In the end every new voice is a chance for us all to learn something.


Tom’s Take

As Dennis Leary said in Demolition Man,

I’m no leader. I do what I have to do. Sometimes people come with me.

That’s what Cisco Live is to me. It’s not about a corner or a table or a suite at an event. It’s about people coming together to do things. People talking about work and having a good time. The last five years of Cisco Live have been some of the happiest of my life. More than any other event, I look forward to seeing the community and catching up with old friends. I am thankful to have a job that allows me to go to the event. I’m grateful for a community full of wonderful people that are some of the best and brightest at what they do. For me, Cisco Live is about each of you. The learning and access to Cisco is a huge benefit. But I would go for the people time and time and time again. Thanks for making the fifth year of this community something special to me.

Moscone Madness

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The Moscone Center in San Francisco is a popular place for technical events.  Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) is an annual user of the space.  Cisco Live and VMworld also come back every few years to keep the location lively.  This year, both conferences utilized Moscone to showcase tech advances and foster community discussion.  Having attended both this year in San Francisco, I think I can finally state the following with certainty.


It’s time for tech conferences to stop using the Moscone Center.


Let’s face it.  If your conference has more than 10,000 attendees, you have outgrown Moscone.  WWDC works in Moscone because they cap the number of attendees at 5,000.  VMworld 2014 has 22,000 attendees.  Cisco Live 2014 had well over 20,000 as well.  Cramming four times the number of delegates into a cramped Moscone Center does not foster the kind of environment you want at your flagship conference.

The main keynote hall in Moscone North is too small to hold the large number of audience members.  In an age where every keynote address is streamed live, that shouldn’t be a problem.  Except that people still want to be involved and close to the event.  At both Cisco Live and VMworld, the keynote room filled up quickly and staff were directing the overflow to community spaces that were already packed too full.  Being stuffed into a crowded room with no seating or table space is frustrating.  But those are just the challenges of Moscone.  There are others as well.

I Left My Wallet In San Francisco

San Francisco isn’t cheap.  It is one of the most expensive places in the country to live.  By holding your conference in downtown San Francisco, you are forcing your 20,000+ attendees into a crowded metropolitan area with expensive hotels.  Every time I looked up a hotel room in the vicinity of VMworld or Cisco Live, I was unable to find anything for less than $300 per night.  Contrast that with Interop or Cisco Live in Las Vegas, where sub-$100 are available and $200 per night gets you into the hotel of the conference center.

Las Vegas is built for conferences.  It has adequate inexpensive hotel options.  It is designed to handle a large number of travelers arriving at once.  While spread out geographically, it is easy to navigate.  In fact, except for the lack of Uber, Las Vegas is easy to get around in than San Francisco.  I never have a problem finding a restaurant in Vegas to take a large party.  Bringing a group of 5 or 6 to a restaurant in San Francisco all but guarantees you won’t find a seat for hours.

The only real reason I can see for holding conferences at Moscone, aside from historical value, is the ease of getting materials and people into San Francisco.  Cisco and VMware both are in Silicon Valley.  Driving up to San Francisco is much easier than shipping the conference equipment to Las Vegas or Orlando.  But ease-of-transport does not make it easy on your attendees.  Add in the fact that the lower cost of setup is not reflected in additional services or reduced hotel rates and you can imagine that attendees have no real incentive to come to Moscone.


Tom’s Take

The Moscone Center is like the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.  While both have a history of producing wonderful events, both have passed their prime.  They are ill-suited for modern events.  They are cramped and crowded.  They are in unfavorable areas.  It is quickly becoming more difficult to hold events for these reasons.  But unlike the Cotton Bowl, which has almost 100 years of history, Moscone offers not real reason to stay.  Apple will always be here.  Every new iPhone, Mac, and iPad will be launched here.  But those 5,000 attendees are comfortable in one section of Moscone.  Subjecting your VMworld and Cisco Live users to these kinds of conditions is unacceptable.

It’s time for Cisco, VMware, and other large organizations to move away from Moscone.  It’s time to recognize that Moscone is not big enough for an event that tries to stuff in every user it can.  instead, conferences should be located where it makes sense.  Las Vegas, San Diego, and Orlando are conference towns.  Let’s use them as they were meant to be used.  Let’s stop the madness of trying to shoehorn 20,000 important attendees into the sardine can of the Moscone Center.

Cisco Live 2014 – Recap

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Cisco Live Twitterati and Social Media Rockstars

Cisco Live 2014 was a rollicking fun ride from start to finish this year.  Lots of people to see and things to do.  The social media aspect of Cisco has come full circle as well.  No longer are social folks trying to borrow chairs at lunch tables or finding spots to camp out for keynotes.  Social is integrated into everything now at all levels.  And that’s because of the people.  But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

The Places

Cisco Live seemed a bit spread out this year.  But that’s not the fault of Cisco.  It’s because Moscone wasn’t designed to handle an influx of people like this.  Who has a 25,000 attendee convention?  Cisco Live overwhelmed the place.  You couldn’t walk on the streets without seeing CLUS badges.  Mel’s Drive-In was packed every day.  Moscone was built for a day when 10,000 people was a lot.  Now it’s just too small.  Sessions spread across three buildings.  People loading for the keynote through the tunnels.  Moscone needs an upgrade before CLUS comes back again.

That being said, the location of the Social Media Hub (upgraded to the Social Media Routed Bridge on Foursqure) and the Tweetup area were spot on this year.  Right inside the doors at Moscone South.  Easy to find.  Great to hangout within.  Easy access to keynote monitors.  Except for the ever-present DJ, it was close to perfect.  Seeing how the  hub has grown really makes me proud.  Social is starting to be a bigger part of everything. And that’s because of the people.

The People

People make the event.  Plain and simple.  Cisco Live is like the biggest family reunion you’ll ever get to attend.  Catching up with old friends.  Meeting new ones.  Staying out until the wee hours of the morning discussing routing design with four people you met two hours ago.  Those are the kinds of memories you won’t forget any time soon.

This year was packed with greatness.  People that wanted to get involved.  People that helped make the event bigger than it’s ever been.  The first introduction of the Cisco Champions at Cisco Live.  The Tech Field Day roundtables.  Even walking the show floor and bumping into friends working the booths.  That shows me that the power of a single person on Twitter or on a blog is starting to have a huge impact on the perception of a brand.

One voice makes a difference.  One person can influence a group and bring about change.  Sometimes it’s small, like getting getting friends to meet up to got to lunch.  Other times it’s the CLUS Scavenger Hunt, where dozens of people competed for prizes.  Still bigger is the Sunday evening tweetup, where 150 social media rockstars showed how powerful our voices can be.  It’s important to remember that people are watching the things you say.  You can have an impact.  When you realize that, you’ll know just how powerful you can truly be.

Tom’s Take

I was talking with Amy Lewis (@CommsNinja) during the Customer Appreciation Event about how far we’ve come since Tom’s Corner just a few years ago.  In fact, we took a pic that someone remarked “made us look like proud parents”.

AmyTom

We are proud parents.  But only because our kids, namely you, have shown everyone how to make it on their own in the crazy social media world.  We’re a community now.  This isn’t a club or a clique.  This is about awesome people coming together to be a part of something greater.  That’s what gestalt means.  We’re greater than the sum of our parts.  Cisco Live is our chance to shine.  Sure, we have goofy jokes.  We give each other bats and t-shrts and tiaras.  But that’s because we want to show each and every one how important they are.

Every year we have more people at Cisco Live.  We have more and more people joining the community.  But we also have those that can’t make it back for one reason or another.  They are always missed.  But it does show everyone how the community keeps going every year.  And that’s what makes me the most proud.  That the community can and will endure.

Thanks to everyone that said “hello” during Cisco Live.  Thanks also to Cisco and their great staff for making CLUS 2014 so amazing.  We always appreciate everything you do for us.  Next year in San Diego is shaping up to be epic again.  Let’s make our voices heard once more!

The SDNicorn

SDNicorn and the CLUS Princess

SDNicorn and the CLUS Princess

Cisco Live is a conference full of characters. Larger than life people like Scott Morris (@ScottMorrisCCIE) and Terry Slattery. Even I’ve been known to indulge in the antics sometimes. Remember the tattoo? This year, I wanted to do something a little different. And with some help from Amazon I managed to come up with one the best and worst ideas I’ve ever had.

The SDNicorn

Why a unicorn head? It’s actually an idea I’ve had for Networking Field Day for quite a while. The Wireless Field Day folks already have their own spirit mascot: the polar bear.

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I wanted to give the networking folks their own mascot. What better animal than the unicorn? After all, when things just seem to happen for no reason, who says it isn’t because of unicorns? In addition, Amy Lewis (@CommsNinja) of Cisco is a huge unicorn fan. If you’re going to go for something, go all the way right?

The SDNicorn Rides Again

When I pulled the mask out at the Sunday evening tweetup, it got a huge round of applause. People started lining up for pictures with me. It was a bigger reception than I could have hoped for.

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I thought it would have a few laughs then I would retire the unicorn head until the next day. That’s when it took on a life of its own. I started looking for picture ideas. Rob Novak (@Gallifreyan) got a picture of me drinking an energy drink.

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It is unicorn fuel after all. The best part came when a random group of Cisco interns shooting video for an executive event asked me to put on the mask for a quick pickup shoot. That’s how you know you’ve made an impact.

The rest of the event was just as fun for me. I wore it to the CCIE party when Amy Arnold (@AmyEngineer) got a great shot of me enjoying wine.

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George Chongris (@th1nkdifferent) got a nice selfie too.

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A few people even remarked that I was a little bit scary. I took the mask down to the World of Solutions and ran into Mike Dvorkin (@Dvorkinista), where he proceeded to borrow the mask and trot around the WoS asking for hay. I was doubled over with laughter the whole time.

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I also got J. Michael Metz (@DrJMetz) to admit that Dynamic FCoE is really powered by unicorns.  Hat and all.

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The Customer Appreciation Event had to be the highlight, however. I wore the mask with the CAE hat of course. But people started borrowing it to do other things. Bob McCouch (@BobMcCouch) got a great shot of Kale Blankenship (@vCabbage) in the mask enjoying a beer.

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James Bowling (@vSential) was a highlight with his cloud-powered video too.

Tom’s Take

I admit the unicorn was a bit silly. But it was memorable. People have been tweeting about it and writing articles about it already. I plan on bringing the SDNicorn to Networking Field Day 8 this fall as well as VMworld in August. I think this idea has a bit more life left in it yet. At least I’m covering something up instead of showing off again, right?

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