Conference Battle Royale: TechEd versus EMC World versus NetAppCon

As one of the few people at EMC who attended both TechEd 2009 in Los Angeles as well as EMC World 2009 in Orlando, I thought I had a unique perspective that I should write about.  My information about the NetApp Conference (NetAppCon) is all based on second-hand knowledge, so hopefully I wasn’t misled.

Let’s compare TechEd 2009 vs EMC World 2009 vs NetApp Conference 2009:

Weather – TechEd 2009 LA

The weather in LA was nice.  Not too hot, not too cold – just right for comfortable jeans/shirt.   The weather in Orlando for EMC World was horrible – it rained just about every single day.   TechEd wins this one.

The weather at NetAppCon was just plain cold (so I hear).

Location – EMC World 2009 Orlando

Orlando, although somewhat lacking in culture and “realness,” seems to be tailor-made for conferences. There’s lots to do. My hotel was a replica of a Venetian village. Unlimited themed bars and party spots – Blue Martini, Margaritaville, etc…  Not as overwhelming and damaging on the wallet as conference standard Vegas would be.   LA (TechEd) seems a little strange for a conference and it seemed like when the show ended, the fun mostly stopped and although my hotel was close, I wouldn’t dare walk home even if I was with the better-equipped gang. My hotel in LA was pretty weak (my fault for not fully researching) and I’ve joked with some friends that there seemed to be an odd stain the shape of a mouse imprinted on the shower floor (it was actually chipped porcelain).  Next years locations will be a debate for another time – New Orleans (TechEd) versus Boston (EMC World).

I heard (from other sources) that this year’s NetApp conference was very hard to locate on a map.

Session Content – EMC World 2009

Although TechEd 2009 gave some great content around areas I’m interested in such as Exchange 2010 and SharePoint, I found the session content to be somewhat underwhelming.  A few sessions stood out, but considering the ease of which Microsoft related VHDs or ISO files can now be downloaded from the web, I didn’t see much information that was brand new or “ahh ha” type content.   I talked to a few attendees candidly about their impressions of EMC World, and I got a few “not much new stuff” but I also got quite a few people that supported my claim that in the storage infrastructure business you have to go to a show to see the breadth of what is available – from IoMega drives to Celerra to CX to V-Max – it’s hard to download and play with this stuff (unless you’re grabbing Virtual Storage Appliances).

I heard NetAppCon didn’t offer any new content at all.

Hands-On Opportunities – TechEd 2009

Microsoft, with their tight relationships with server vendors, is able to place computers everywhere for as much hands-on as you could ever want.  You could install just about anything and configure just about anything you want in parallel to the sessions.  So you could attend a session on a product like Microsoft CRM, and then go try to install it.  This is nice.  EMC continues to raise the bar at EMC World for hands-on labs, but the labs are fit into the same slots as the lecture sessions, which sometimes don’t allow as much flexibility as some would like in taking their own pathway through a conference. Most often, people come to conferences with a fairly simple set of desires – learn something about X set of features, and learn how to install and configure Y set of features for backup, performance, DR, etc.

From what I heard, the NetApp conference area didn’t offer any hands-on with their latest technologies.  Hmmm.

Food and Catering – TechEd 2009

It’s hard as hell to feed thousands of people, but I thought Microsoft did a slightly better job pushing people through lines and feeding people at wider breakfast and lunch intervals.  The food quality was basically the same.  I liked EMC’s Baby Back Ribs on Tuesday, and the food options during the Gin Blossoms show were also excellent if you could handle the lines.   I liked those chocolate things on the stick that reminded me of Ring Dings.  Microsoft had a make-your-own burrito bar one day – wonder if they used local produce?  Another plus for TechEd is that soda jerks like myself could always get a Diet Coke anywhere, anytime – day or night.  They usually had fresh cookies and ice cream each day…  Continuous Diet Coke Availability plus daily ice-cream and cookies is a major plus for folks in this industry.  Our drugs are sugar and caffeine.

On NetApp, my inside connection told me that that he couldn’t find the dining hall, so he ended up having to bring his own lunch everyday…

Night Time Options – EMC World 2009

Microsoft definitely invested heavily in the soda and snacks factor over entertainment.  The Jam on IT event was somewhat weak and although I had a very tasty corn dog (haven’t had one of those in a long while), the feel of the event was very tame.  The main act of the night was Speaker Idol, where technical presenters competed for the judges in front of a crowd.  Sorry, learning sysinternals tips and tricks isn’t really my idea of a fun night out.  As a drummer I look forward to the Jam Sessions each year, and there was a podcaster-guy who cut about 40 minutes into the 2 hours allotted to the jam sessions. At least I got to jam to, “Gimme One Reason” by Tracy Chapman.  Here’s me playing drums last year (check out the great sax player and try to block out the guy who needs More Cowbell).

EMC decided to continue it’s tradition of live music acts (2008 Goo Goo Dolls, 2009 Gin Blossoms).  The more cynical folks commented that these are bargain basement bands that had their heyday years ago. But the more positive among us would say the Gin Blossoms were a great live musical show – they kept the crowd entertained and energized, they had more hits than I remember, they were really good and if you got close enough, they sounded fantastic.

Here’s what the Twitterers said the night of the show:

New Media Engagement

EMC pulled out all the stops this year and got huge props from those in the blogosphere and from the Twitterati – all commending folks like Len Devanna on a job well done in terms of execution, partnership, perks, and engagement.  I was very psyched to be a part of this exclusive club (and the constant hi-test coffee didn’t hurt either).  I had great conversations with folks who care about technology, their jobs, and their careers.  What a great thing.

EMC World 2009 Wins It.

Overall, I’d say it’s tough to be objective as EMC is my employer, but I’d without a doubt the combination of great technical content, great presentation of technical capabilities, combined with specialized treatment for bloggers/twitterati and a wide range of nighttime activities made for a better overall experience than TechEd 2009 this year.

(Disclaimer: There was some sarcasm in here… If you didn’t know, NetApp didn’t have a conference this year.  Some will say it’s the economy, but I think it goes to show their sentiment about 1. taking care of their customers and their employees, 2. their confidence in their technologies, and 3. their place in the market.)


One thought on “Conference Battle Royale: TechEd versus EMC World versus NetAppCon

  1. Eyal

    I’ve heard that NetApp Accelerate 2009 event happened too fast, that’s why you didn’t have a chance to review it.
    In any case, I bet the smart folks at Data Domain would train the guys at NetApp on how to dedupe those events. As many chunks of these conferences are redundant anyway. so why bother?


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