The Conundrum of Virtual Conferences

Okay, the world is indeed crazy. We can’t hide from it or hope that it just blows over sooner or later. We’re dealing with it now and that means it’s impacting our work, our family lives, and even our sanity from time to time. One of the stalwart things that has been impacted by this is the summer conference schedule. We’ve had Aruba Atmosphere, Cisco Live, VMworld, and even Microsoft Ignite transition from being held in-person to a virtual format complete with shortened schedules and pre-recorded sessions. I’ve attended a couple of these so far for work and as an analyst, and I think I’ve figured it out.

If you come to a conference for content and sessions, you’ll love virtual events. If you come for any other reason, virtual isn’t going to work for you.

Let’s break this down because there’s a lot to unpack.

Information Ingestion

Conferences are first and foremost about disseminating information. Want to learn what new solutions and technologies have been launched? It’s probably going to be announced either right before or during the conference. Want to learn the ins-and-outs of this specific protocol? There’s probably a session on it or a chance to ask a professional engineer or architect about it. There’s a lot of content to be consumed at the conference. So much, in fact, that in recent years the sessions have started to be recorded and posted for consumption after the fact. You can now have access to a library of any topic you could ever want. Which comes in really handy when your boss decides in November that you’re going to be the new phone person…

Because all this content has been recorded and published before, transitioning the content to a virtual format is almost seamless. The only wrinkle is that people are going be recording from their home instead of a blast freezer ballroom in the Mandalay Bay. That means you’re going to need tighter control over things like environment and video recordings. Your people are going to have to get good and talking and setting up their screens to be effective. Most good presenters can do this already. Some need some coaching. Most are going to need a few takes to get it right since they aren’t going to be editing together their own video. But the end result is going to be the same. You’re going to have great content to share with people to be consumed over the course of days or weeks or even months.

Keynotes are a little bit harder to quantify in this content category. They are definitely content, just not for tech people. Keynotes are analyst and press fodder. It’s a packaging of the essence of the event in an hour-long (or longer) format designed to hit the important points for tweets and headlines. Keynotes are very, very, very rehearsed. No one tends to go off the script unless it’s absolutely necessary. Even the off-the-cuff remarks are usually scripted and tested for impact ahead of time. If a joke fails to land, just imagine the three others they tried that were worse.

But keynotes at a virtual event can be more impactful. Because you can do some editing you can put together different takes. You can inject some emotion. You can even use it as a platform for creating change. I specifically want to call out the Cisco Live keynote from Chuck Robbins this year. It wasn’t about tech. We didn’t really hear about protocols or hardware. Instead, Chuck used his platform to talk about the drivers of technology. He stood up and told the world how we need to use our talents and our toys to build a better world for ourselves and for everyone around us. Chuck didn’t mince words. He postponed Cisco Live by two weeks to highlight the struggles and causes that are being shown nightly on the news. He wanted us to see the world he and his company are trying to help and build up. And he used the keynote slot to push that message. No flashy numbers or sparkly hardware. Just good, old fashioned discussion.

Virtual Hallways

Every positive thing should have something corresponding to balance it out. And for virtual conferences, it’s the stuff that’s not about content. Ironically enough, that’s the part that I’ve been so steeped in recently. Sure, Tech Field Day produces a lot on content around these events. I’m happy to be able to be a part of that. But the event is more than just videos and slide decks. It’s more than just sitting in uncomfortable chairs in a meat locker nursing a hangover trying to understand the chipset in a switch.

Conferences are as much about community as anything else. They’re about seeing your friends in-person. Conferences are about hallway conversations about random topics and taking a taxi to a bar halfway down the Vegas Strip to meet up with a couple of people and some person you’ve never even heard of. It’s about meeting the co-workers of your friends and pulling them into your circle. It’s about sharing hobbies and life stories and learning about the crazy haircut someone’s kid gave themselves right before they left.

Community matters to me most of all. Because a conference without a community is just a meeting. And that part is missing virtually. I did my best with an attempt to do Tom’s Virtual Corner with our community. I was shocked and pleased at the number of people that joined in. We had over 50 people on the calendar invite and over a dozen connected at any one time. It was wonderful! But it wasn’t the corner that we know and love. It’s not that it wasn’t special. It was totally special and I appreciate everyone that took time out of their day to take part. But there are some things that are missing from the virtual experience.

I’ll take myself for example. I have two problems that I have to overcome at events:

  1. I’m a story teller.
  2. Other people need to talk too.

If I get on a tear with number one, number two won’t happen. At an in-person event it’s easy enough for me to deal with the first one. I just pull interested people aside for a small group conversation. Or I wait for a different time or another day to tell my story. It’s easy enough to do when you spend sixteen hours around people on average and even more well into the night with friends.

However, those above things don’t really work on Zoom/Webex/GoToMeeting. Why? Well, for one thing you can only really have one speaker at a time. So everyone needs to keep it short and take turns. Which leads to a lot of waiting to talk and not so much for listening. Or it leads to clipped quips and not real discussion. And before you bring up the breakout room idea, remember that mechanically there is a lot of setup that needs to happen for those. You can’t just create one on the fly to tell a story about beanbags and then just hop back into the main room. And, breakout rooms by their very nature are exclusionary. So it’s tough to create one and not want to just stay there and let people come to you.


Tom’s Take

This is just a small part of the missing aspect of virtual conferences. Sure, your feet don’t hurt at the end of the day. I’d argue the food is way better at home. The lack of airports and hotel staff isn’t the end of the world. But if your primary focus for going to events is to do everything other than watching sessions then the virtual experience isn’t for you. The dates for Cisco Live 2021 and Aruba Atmosphere 2021 have already been announced. I, for one, can’t wait to get back to in-person conferences. Because I miss the fringe benefits of being in-person more than anything else.

Tom’s Virtual Corner at Cisco Live US 2020

One of the things that I look forward to most during Cisco Live is the opportunity to meet with people. It’s been quite a few years since I’ve been to a session during the conference. My work with Tech Field Day has kept me very busy for the past several Cisco Live events. But at the end of the day I enjoy strolling down to the Social Media hub and talking to anyone I see. Because people make Cisco Live what it is.

The Legend of Tom’s Corner has grown over the years. It’s more than just a few tables in a place where people hang out. It stands for a community. It means a lot to so many different people. It’s about meeting new friends and catching up with old ones and feeling like you belong. For so many, Tom’s Corner and the Social Media Hub is the center of Cisco Live.

And yet, we now live in extraordinary times. The plan we had for what Cisco Live would look like for us earlier this year is radically different right now. Prohibitions on travel and meetings in large groups means we will be experiencing Cisco Live from our homes afar instead of the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. The sessions we attend will be online. The keynotes streamed without seating and traffic directions. Although the office chairs at home will probably be more comfortable than conference seating.

But what about that in-person aspect to things? What about meeting up at the Social Media Hub and hanging out with all our friends? Well, the social media aspect to the event is going to be even more important now. Twitter and Slack and iMessage are going to be our primary forms of communication. We’re going to be twice as social even without being able to be around people thanks to the need to use programs to connect. But it’s not going to feel the same without being able to see someone.

A Virtual Corner

Because things are so crazy and because we’re not all going to get to be in the same place this year to hang out at Tom’s Corner, it’s time to bring Tom’s Corner to the virtual landscape of Cisco Live. Thanks to the power of Zoom and the patronage of Tech Field Day, we’re going to be holding Tom’s Virtual Corner at Cisco Live US 2020!

With the power of the revolution of technology and video chat we’re going to have the option to hang out and chat just like we always do! Granted, we’re not going to have to fight over places to sit this year so it may be better this way. Also, less walking! We’re going to have the meeting running from about 8:00am PT through 1:00pm PT so don’t worry if you can’t join right at the start. I’m sure there are going to be people coming and going all day.

In order to be a part of Tom’s Virtual Corner at Cisco Live US 2020, you’re going to need to send me an email at tom@networkingnerd.net or a DM on Twitter with the email address you want the calendar invitation sent to. Yes, that’s a very manual process. But given the number of people that like to invade Zoom calls this is a necessary precaution. Just send me an email with the title “Tom’s Virtual Corner Invitiation” and I’ll make sure you’re on the list. After that we can get everything going just like if we were hanging at the actual corner.

This is supposed to be a fun time to hang and enjoy the company of each other in a format that is hard to replicate, so a couple of ground rules:

  • Disruptive attendees may be kicked at the discretion of the hosts.
  • Follow Wheaton’s Law as the Prime Behavior Directive. If you have a question about whether or not you’re violating that law, you probably are.
  • Be respectful of your peers and friends. Make this a positive experience for everyone. I don’t want to have to be the fun police but if that needs to happen so be it.

It’s that simple. Be cool, act cool, and we’ll have fun.


Tom’s Take

I’m going to miss the Social Media Hub this year. I’m going to miss my friends and I am also going to regret not getting to make new ones. But maybe we can salvage a bit of that spark this way. We might miss the sign pic or the crazy antics that happen with giant Lego figures or tiaras or unicorn masks. But we’ll be there in spirit and that’s what counts. And, if nothing else, the tenth anniversary of Tom’s Corner next year is going to blow the roof off the place!

Conference Packing – The Little Things

It seems like conference season never really ends. Between RSA, Cisco Live, Black Hat, and VMworld, I’m always running around to something. I enjoy being able to meet new people and talk to companies at these events but I also find that a little bit of planning ahead helps immensely.

There’s always a lot of discussion from people about what to pack for a conference. There have been some great posts written about it, like this one from Bob McCouch in 2014. He definitely covers all the important stuff that people would want to know, such as comfortable shoes and a bag big enough to carry extra things just in case you come back with enough fidget spinners to sink an aircraft carrier.

However, I’ve found in recent years that the difference between just surviving a conference and really being prepared involves a few extra items I never thought I’d need to bring back when I first started doing this in 2006. Maybe it’s the Scoutmaster in me, but being prepared has gone from being a suggestion to a necessity. And here are a few of those little necessities that I have found I can’t live without.

First? Aid.

I’ve found that traveling with a first aid kit is a huge upgrade in Quality of Conference Life. I’m not talking about one of the crazy backpack-style ones that first responders carry. Or even the small plastic ones that you can find in a local department store that have everything under the sun. No, the best first aid kit is the one you pack yourself. So you know you have what you need and you know what you have.

For my first aid kit, I pack small:

  • 3-4 bandages. Preferred to be breathable (not plastic or cute)
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Moleskin for blisters
  • Cotton balls
  • Small alcohol swab (for cleaning and drying out blisters)
  • Q-Tips or other cotton swabs
  • Cuticle scissors

It’s a simple kit but it works wonders. You can take care of minor cuts and scrapes, blisters (which are the bane of every conference), and other things like wound treatment. You can even use cotton balls as earplugs in a pinch. The rest is designed to travel light.

Note that I didn’t list any pain relievers in there. That’s because I separately carry a lot of ibuprofen in my bag to help with tired muscles after standing all day and headaches after waking up. I carry enough that it won’t easily fit in the Ziploc bag that I use for my travel kit. It’s also easier to access in my bag without having to go into another bag. Make your kit easy to use and easy to access so you can get to it when you need it.

Portable Power

It’s funny how we’ve come to depend so much on our mobile devices now. I’ve gone from not even caring if I left my Nokia phone in my room to not being able to function without a smart device or two on me at all times. That also means that I’ve become hyper aware of how long I’m going to be able to use my device. And in places where there are a lot of phones competing for signal or a lot of interference, you’re going to drain your device battery a lot faster.

The other issue is that modern devices have much bigger batteries than in the past. My iPhone XS has a battery thats almost 2,700 mAh. My iPad Pro battery is 8,100 mAh. The battery in a MacBook is almost as much as well. Which means you’re going to either need to be tied to a power outlet often or you need to carry a battery pack.

Most conference guides I’ve seen will tell you to bring at least one battery pack. Since I’m crazy prepared, I always have two. One of them is bigger and designed to provide power on a regular basis away from a power outlet. It’s usually something above 10,000 mAh that takes a while to charge when it’s fully depleted. I’m about to upgrade to a newer unit that has USB-C PD charging and delivery and can recharge all my devices more quickly. The Wirecutter has some great reviews of bigger power banks to recharge all kinds of devices.

I also still need to carry a smaller battery pack for just my phone, especially when I want to travel light. And since I’m trying to travel light I don’t want to carry any extra things, like cables. Normally, I try to have a USB-C, micro USB, and Lightning cable at all times to handle any charging needs. But if it’s after hours and I’m just looking to have my phone charged so it doesn’t die, all I need it a Lightning cable. I’ve been using this Ventev PowerCell 6010+ for the last year thanks to an awesome friend and it does exactly what I need it to do. It recharges my phone more than once and fits in my pocket. The Lightning cable is also attached so I don’t need to worry about anything dangling out of my pocket. And in a pinch it can give a little extra juice to my iPad. You should check them out if you just need something small and simple.

Can You Hear Me Now?

The final thing I pack in my kit that seems out of the ordinary is earplugs. Why? Well, it turns out that conferences are loud. Like, really loud. And that means that you can’t even hear yourself think sometimes. This is especially true if you end up going to the big closing event. This usually involves a DJ or a band playing as loud as possible. And, depending on where you’re sitting or standing you may not be able to hear them clearly for the ringing in your ears.

Likewise, the conference floor is often a jumbled mess of booths, music, and even once a marching band! You need to have some kind of way to block out the noise without completely drowning out what is going on around you. Yes, I know it’s really easy to pop in a set of earbuds or put on a pair of over-the-ear headphones while you walk around. But in my line of work, I don’t want to be distracted by music either. I want the din of all the crowd to die down while I concentrate. It’s also a great way to make any workroom instantly quiet when I need to write up a report during an event.

If you happen to have a custom pair of earplugs already for some reason, such as swimming or shooting sports, you’re already ahead of the curve. Those things probably do an amazing job of blocking out everything. For those of us not lucky enough to have something custom, just hop down to a drugstore or department store and pick up on a set or three of the really cheap foam plugs. You can pass them out to your friends and even make a new one or two. Just don’t expect to converse a lot!


Tom’s Take

I find the little things are needed to make life more bearable. Because knowing that I have them makes me less likely to stress about all the crazy stuff that can happen during a conference. The unexpected happens all the time. Yet, by definition, we can’t expect it! But, if we know how to prepare for the majority of those things we can focus on having a good conference experience. We may not need a cell phone jammer or an oddly-specific size of metric wrench, but carrying the things above has really helped me when it comes to relaxing a bit at conferences.

Cisco Live 2019 – Rededicating Community

The 2019 Cisco Live Sign Photo

Another Cisco Live is in the books for me. I was a bit shocked to realize this was my 14th event in a row. I’ve been going to Cisco Live half of the time it’s been around! This year was back in San Diego, which has good and bad points. I’d like to discuss a few of them there and get the thoughts of the community.

Good: The Social Media Hub Has Been Freed! – After last year’s issues with the Social Media Hub being locked behind the World of Solutions, someone at Cisco woke up and realized that social people don’t keep the same hours as the show floor people. So, the Hub was located in a breezeway between the Sails Pavilion and the rest of the convention center. And it was great. People congregated. Couches were used. Discussions were had. And the community was able to come together again. Not during the hours when it was convenient. But a long time. This picture of the big meeting on Thursday just solidifies in my mind why the Social Media Hub has to be in a common area:

You don’t get this kind of interaction anywhere else!

Good: Community Leaders Step Forward – Not gonna lie. I feel disconnected sometimes. My job at Tech Field Day takes me away from the action. I spend more time in special sessions than I do in the social media hub. For any other place that could spell disaster. But not for Cisco Live. When the community needs a leader, someone steps forward to fill the role. This year, I was happy to see my good friend Denise Fishburne filling that role. The session above was filled with people paying rapt attention to Fish’s stories and her bringing people into the community. She’s a master at this kind of interaction. I was even proud to sit on the edge and watch her work her craft.

Fish is the d’Artagnan of the group. She may be part of the Musketeers of Social Media but Fish is undoubtedly the leader. A community should hope to have a leader that is as passionate and involved as she is, especially given her prominent role in Cisco. I feel like she can be the director of what the people in the Social Media Hub need. And I’m happy to call her my friend.

Bad: Passes Still Suck – You don’t have to do the math to figure out that $700 is bigger than $200. And that $600/night is worse than $200/night. And yet, for some reason we find ourselves in San Diego, where the Gaslamp hotels are beyond insane, wondering what exactly we’re getting with our $700 event pass. Sessions? Nope. Lunch? Well, sort of. Access to the show floor? Only when it’s open for the random times during the week. Compelling content? That’s the most subjective piece of all. And yet Cisco is still trying to tell us that the idea of a $200 social-only pass doesn’t make sense.

Fine. I get it. Cisco wants to keep the budgets for Cisco Live high. They got the Foo Fighters after all, right? They also don’t have to worry about policing the snacks and food everywhere. Or at least not ordering the lowest line items on the menu. Which means less fussing about piddly things inside the convention center. And for the next two years it’s going to work out just great in Las Vegas. Because Vegas is affordable with the right setup. People are already booking rooms at the surrounding hotels. You can stay at the Luxor or the Excalibur for nothing. But if the pass situation is still $700 (or more) in a couple of years you’re going to see a lot of people dropping out. Because….

Bad: WTF?!? San Francisco?!? – I’ve covered this before. My distaste for Moscone is documented. I thought we were going to avoid it this time around. And yet, I found out we’re going back to SF in 2022.

WHY?!?!?!?

Moscone isn’t any bigger. We didn’t magically find seating for 10,000 extra people. More importantly, the hotel situation in San Fran is worse than ever before. You seriously can’t find a good room this year for VMworld. People are paying upwards of $500/night for a non-air conditioned shoe box! And why would you do this to yourself Cisco?

Sure, it’s cheap. Your employees don’t need hotel rooms. You can truck everything up. But your costs savings are being passed along to the customer. Because you would rather them pay through the nose instead of footing the bill yourself. And Moscone still won’t hold the whole conference. We’ll be spilled over into 8 different hotels and walking from who knows where to get to the slightly nicer shack of a convention center.

I’m not saying that Cisco Live needs to be in Vegas every year. But it’s time for Cisco to start understanding that their conference needs a real convention center. And Moscone ain’t it.

Better: Going Back to Orlando – As you can see above, I’ve edited this post to include new information about Cisco Live 2022. I have been informed by multiple people, including internal Cisco folks, that Live 2022 is going to Orlando and not SF. My original discussion about Cisco Live in SF came from other sources with no hard confirmation. I believe now it was floated as a trial balloon to see how the community would respond. Which means all my statements above still stand regarding SF. Now it just means that there’s a different date attached to it.

Orlando is a better town for conventions than SF. It’s on-par with San Diego with the benefit that hotels are way cheaper for people because of the large amount of tourism. I think it’s time that Cisco did some serious soul searching to find a new venue that isn’t in California or Florida for Cisco Live. Because if all we’re going to do is bounce back and forth between San Diego and Orlando and Vegas over and over again, maybe it’s time to just move Cisco Live to Vegas and be done with the moving.


Tom’s Take

Cisco Live is something important to me. It has been for years, especially with the community that’s been created. There’s nothing like it anywhere else. Sure, there have been some questionable decisions and changes here and there. But the community survives because it rededicates itself every year to being about the people. I wasn’t kidding when I tweeted this:

Because the real heart of the community is each and every one of the people that get on a plane and make the choice time and again to be a part of something special. That kind of dedication makes us all better in every possible way.

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.

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

CLUS2016SignPic

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”.

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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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