I usually attend one or two trade shows per year, with Cisco Networkers/Live being the primary focus. That mostly has to do with being a largely Cisco shop, and my own predilections as much as with my general lack of time and a desire to maximize what I do have. Other shows and events I have attended tend to be just as vendor-centric, which isn’t always a bad thing, but it does tend to minimize chances for valid comparisons. It’s a bit like self-selecting your political news: you hear what you want to hear and never get quality, opposing viewpoints.
I was happy to accept an invitation, therefore, to go to Interop 2012 in Las Vegas last week. This was a completely paid for trip, with Hewlett Packard footing the bill. By way of full disclosure, I should point out here that I was not required to write anything in particular, good or bad, or even to write anything at all. Obviously, in these situations, HP is probably hoping that they get mileage out of my visit, but they require no upfront guarantees. I’m far too opinionated and cantankerous to say nice things where they’re not due anyhow.
Before I get too into the weeds on anything, I’ll say that Interop was definitely both different and similar to other shows. The trade show floor was almost indistinguishable from the Cisco Networkers/Live show, as an example, with the only difference being a more varied mix of vendors, including Juniper, HP, and Huawei. Some vendors who had been relatively recently purchased still had independent booths (Sonicwall as an example), and some vendors were completely absent (storage stalwarts like EMC and NetApp).
The offerings on “sessions” however—the meat and potatoes of Cisco Live—was very obviously more slanted toward vendor pitches and sales than toward real education. As a result, most of my time was spent with vendors on the show floor, or in meetings HP arranged (more on that in a bit). I’m not arguing that the format of the show is bad in any way, just different. For me personally, I think I prefer the show floor of Interop, but the learning opportunities of Cisco Networkers/Live.
On the HP front, I was given the opportunity to meet with several folks in the HP hierarchy for very small-group meetings. As in, there were 5 of us bloggers in meetings with just a couple of HP folks in an open format Q&A that I found to be extremely enlightening. It was nice to have an opportunity like this to get up close and personal with people in a position to answer questions, affect change, etc., and gave me a new appreciation for HP as a company. They obviously “get” social media and blogging, and take seriously the feedback they get. None of this is to say that I’ll be suddenly swapping Cisco gear for HP, but it’s nice to see what a company like HP is doing and where they see themselves in the next few years.
The first meeting I had was with:
- Bethany Mayer – Senior Vice President and General Manager, HP Networking
- Dom Wilde – VP Global Product Line Management (GPLM), HP Networking
- Derek Chan – Head of Global Technology Operations, DreamWorks Animation
This meeting mostly revolved around DreamWorks Animation, and how they utilize HP technology. I was especially curious how they came to the decision to invest so heavily in HP, given the other vendors out there (e.g.; what were the deciding factors, key decision points, etc.). As it turns out, DreamWorks had a history with HP from the HPUX days and that sort of continued into networking specifically because of HP’s willingness to adapt and change based on the feedback Derek and his team was giving them. For instance, HP specifically developed a model of LCD for DreamWorks to facilitate the transition from CRT to LCD while still keeping the color profile accuracy intact. If you’ve ever done digital photography post-production, you know how critical this can be. That monitor line is now industry standard in almost all major animation houses, a fact that Derek took some specific pleasure in.
The meeting also delved a bit into other announcements HP made at Interop regarding the new partnership with F5 Networks to accelerate Application deployment as well as prepare your network for BYOD; the HP DVPN solution (compare to Cisco’s DMVPN); and the HP Virtual Application Network which is billed as a way to quickly provision and deliver new applications “in minutes, not months”; and finally the new 10500 switch and the four-port 40-gig line rate card. As interesting as these things were, I have to say that if you’ve got the head IT guy from DreamWorks in a room spilling the beans about the inner workings of that studio (DreamWorks has 8-10 movies in work at any one time, with each movie taking on average 200TB of storage and 70 million CPU cycles) and teasing us with Madagascar 3 stories, everything else goes out the window including any semblance of professional journalism. We were all fanboys for a few minutes there.
Derek and Bethany gave the keynote the next morning, but I missed this due to an unfortunate series of beverage encounters the night before. I really wish I hadn’t, however, as part of the keynote included a 10-minute clip of Madagascar 3. C’est la vie, I suppose. Next time I’ll remember to just not go to bed!
We had a lunch meeting the next day with:
- Michael Nielsen – Director, Solution Marketing, Networking
- Erik Papir – Manager, Worldwide Technical Marketing, Networking
Both gentleman were engaging and direct, with Erik being the most surprising in his past history and his claim to be a “recovering engineer”, and based on his resume and depth of experience is most certainly true. This was a good back and forth and mostly revolved around industry trends and how HP was addressing them. We discussed several things coming down the pike strategy wise that, while not necessarily embargoed from a NDA standpoint, were in the realm where I’m going to just say that if they can execute, it will be exciting to see, and to see how Juniper and Cisco react. We closed with a general agreement that this is an exciting time to be in IT—watching what all vendors are doing.
Two more gentleman I met at HP that bear special recognition for some of the insightful conversations I had with them over dinner and on the show floor:
Duncan Campbell – Converged Infrastructure ESSN+TS WW Marketing Enterprise Business (What the hell this title means, I have no clue. I vaguely recall him mentioning that this might be out of date, but I was pretty far along into a very expensive bottle of 2004 Bordeaux and might have missed some salient details). We mostly talked high-level strategy and pain points, but the main thing with Duncan is that he is very interested and engaged, and you get the distinct feeling that he truly wants your feedback.
Jeffrey Zwall, CCIE# 17017 –ESSN Networking Division, WW Technical Marketing. I spent a fair amount of time with Jeffrey as he gave me console access to a lot of the HP equipment on the show floor and walked me through the key similiarities and differences with Cisco on the command line. He was extremely helpful, especially considering his obvious Cisco background. The amount of time he took was above and beyond, and I truly appreciated it. As an aside, it’s a little surprising and interesting to see how many CCIEs and former high-level Cisco execs are over at HP now.
A few brief additional mentions on other companies and things at Interop this year:
Huawei – If these guys can penetrate the American market, which is going to be difficult, they are will be a formidable competitor. The gear they were showing off was truly big-iron and no joke. Chinese government backing is going to be the biggest impediment to success ultimately, but it will be interesting to see how far they can get.
Cisco – Mostly what we’re used to here, pretty rock-solid performance from the gear on the show floor. Here’s where it got a little weird though: Cisco won a Best of Interop award for a product that they didn’t have at Interop. Several people have commented on the farcical nature of the Interop judging (hint: it mostly seems to be based on a good PowerPoint presentation), so I won’t rehash that here. Cisco apparently wants to reveal all new products only at Cisco Networkers/Live and that’s why they had nothing new at Interop. Take that as you will.
Ixia/Anue Systems – That’s right. Shortly before Interop, Ixia bought Anue Systems. Some partnerships are going to get interesting in the coming months, since Anue Systems was selling equipment from an Ixia competitor (name escapes me now). Mergers and acquisitions in the tech world are always interesting, and while I don’t think this one has the makings of a soap opera, it still might be interesting enough to keep an eye on.
Gnodal – Another Best of Interop winner, this company claims to have the lowest latency switches on the market. Period. By the time I had a chance to talk to them on Friday they had pulled most of the equipment, including a demo they were running with Spirent proving their claims. So, aside from the award and some chat-time with their CFO, the most interesting thing I can note is that they may be one of the only vendors left not using Foxconn chassis for their gear.
Juniper — I finally got to meet Abner Germanow (@Abnerg) and he ran me through the Juniper Q-Fabric that Juniper had set up in their booth. They were using a Spirent system to load the Q-Fabric up, and from what I could see the performance was impressive. That said, it was a closed demo at a trade show, so everything is going to be shown in the most perfect light possible. Ultimately, I think I still need some more time to fully wrap my head around Q-Fabric and where and how it differs from everyone else.
Spirent — These guys were everywhere!
Booth Babes — This never seems to go away, and as much as I like scantily clad women, I avoid these booths like the plague. If you can’t convince me to see what you’re doing without resorting to women, race-cars, motorcycles or other gimmicks, I’m not interested.
That’s it for now since my word count has climbed well beyond most people’s attention spans. I’m sure I’ll write more as I pour back over my notes, business cards, and glossies from the show.