Reflections on this week’s SNW

SNW hall servers and storage
SNW hall servers and storage

The crowd seemed more end-user centric, the exhibit floor seemed less intense, and sigh, the bar less crowded.  But mostly what I heard at this week’s SNW was more interest on SSDs and on cloud computing and storage.

Admittedly, I am a different observer than most at SNW.  I typically do not attend tutorials/sessions unless I speak at them, I focus my time on the exhibit floor looking for new technology and I go out of my way to talk with strangers.

At past SNWs mostly I would meet other vendor personnel.  In contrast, at this SNW, I met many more end-users in these chance encounters.  Vendors were still present on the exhibit floor but not as evident  at lunch or the reception.  Perhaps,  there were less auxialliary vendor personnel attending SNW this spring.   The economy may be forcing vendors to cut-back.  Whether this trend continues will need to wait until the next SNW but it started at least a year and a half ago and has really taken off over the past two SNWs.

More SNW hall servers and storage
More SNW hall servers and storage

As for the exhibit floor, less giveaways, less booth babes, and less gambling/magic/raffles to entice customers.  While I was on the exhibit floor there didn’t seem to be any one booth that was drawing all the traffic and as such, all vendors seemed to share show participants equally.  Also, the kiosks in the hall were a bit more subdued as well not capturing people as they walked by as in past shows.

I don’t know the final SNW headcount but it would seem to be about the same as last fall’s SNW except for the minimal vendor personnel.  But I was especially surprised by the lack of Brocade, Cisco, HDS, and Microsoft on the exhibit floor as well as not having any executives present to talk with analysts.  This seems a significant departure from prior SNWs.  I am sure the ROI on SNW has changed as it’s audience mix evolves but one would think the higher end-user proportion would drive more pressure to be here not less.  Nevertheless, I believe their participation in tutorial sessions was not diminished as much as their presence on the exhibit floor.

More SNW hall servers and storage
More SNW hall servers and storage

I met a customer that has been to every SNW since the beginning.  He said that the Symantec Vision conference and NAB occurring during the same week made deciding where to go more of a problem than usual.

Future SNWs

Where SNW goes from here is anyone’s guess.  Some people I talked with thought all the information available on the web makes having a place to see equipment and talk to vendors like SNW redundant.  However, from a vendor perspective, there is an ongoing need to talk directly with customers and obtain new leads.  Something like SNW that concentrates this activity in one place and one time represents a significant advantage.  It certainly does for my business.

Email marketing was supposed to be the death of mail solicitation but my mailbox has seen no end to junk mail.  Similarly, blogging, facebook, and other social media was going to kill offline marketing but all it did was to create other ways to gain my attention.  Perhaps, the marketing spend must adjust for new approaches but old ways never seem to go away entirely. Each company is different, what makes sense for EMC, NetApp, and IBM may make no sense for Cisco, Brocade, HDS, and Microsoft.

More SNW hall servers and storage
More SNW hall servers and storage

One thing present at this SNW more than the last one was social media.  More tweets, more blogging, and more pod/videocasts were generated daily.  At Monday nites tweetup there was at least one more person there than last SNW’s tweetup and we had at least three different sets of vendors/analysts/customers show up as well.  One difference from last fall’s SNW tweetup was that it was held at a bar.

Another thing, I found personally significant, some of my vendor meetings were specifically focused on my role as a blogger versus industry analyst.  This seemed to dictate whether vendors discussed NDA material or not with me.  But the funny thing is I seem to be treated better as a blogger than as an analyst.

I think something like SNW will be around for a long time to come.  Video chats and webcasts have not eliminated meeting face-to-face. Yes information is widely available on the web.  But, obtaining such information depends on actively searching for it or something similar.  On the other hand, conferences like SNW, generate random, spur of the moment contacts.  Such encounters can lead to technology adoption that wasn’t even considered beforehand and potentially start significant sales conversations just by being in the right place at the right time.  Such randomness is impossible to replicate today with a purely web-based experience, there is just too much information and noise out there.

So yes, SNW and other conference/bazaars will be around for awhile longer.  They will change with the times but their essence will remain, that being providing a venue for customers to meet vendors and see first hand the technology that’s available.

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