A journey through 10 data center conferences

I frequently get asked what data center conference to go to.  That is a tough question, because it depends on the person's objective.  Are they an end user looking on how to get up to speed?  Are they a vendor looking for customers?  Are they looking to add to their knowledge by learning new things?  I am going to share a journey through 10 data center conference that may give you some insight, but keep in mind my objective is different than most.  My goal is to hang with friends who are the A team players and learn as much as I can from attending.  Also, I get media passes for most of the events so my assessments are based on attending as media, not as a vendor or end user.

Saying I want to hang with the A team players can come off as arrogant and elitist, but I am used to hanging with really smart people when I was at HP, Apple, and Microsoft so it is a habit that is hard to break.  If you want to improve your game you want to be around the top players.  As an example, I was chatting with Jonathan Koomey yesterday and I was asking if he has gotten back into his Aikido training.  He had taken a break and I have taken one too.  Jonathan trained at Berkeley Aikikai.  I trained at Aikido of SJ.  Both dojos have 6th degree black belt senseis/teachers with high level students.  Many of the friends who started at the same time are Nidan, Sandan, Yondan (2nd, 3rd, 4th degree black belts).  I moved to Seattle 21 years ago, and unfortunately I still feel most comfortable training at my old dojo in SJ which means I have gone for so long I can't remember the last time I trained.  Jonathan has a shorter commute driving from Burlingame to Berkeley to go to his old dojo. I could train in the Seattle area, but I am so used to training with Aikidoists that I have known for quite a while it's just not that enjoyable training where there are not a lot of senior students. 

Finding a data center conference is kind of like finding an Aikido Dojo to train at.  Observing the senior students, the amount of A players at an event will help you give an idea of what it would be like to attend long term.

Observe students carefully, especially the seniors

When you walk into a dojo for a visit and observe training, I would recommend that you pay particular attention to the conduct of the senior students. These people have been training for lengthy periods, and their attitude, skill level, and level of conditioning will give a good indication of what you might expect to achieve after spending several years training.

Back to the 10 data center journey.

1. My data center conference journey started with Uptime Symposium 5 years ago spending a lot of time with Mike Manos, Christian Belady, and meeting a lot of the people who they knew. That jump started my data center conference experience.  I continued to go to Uptime Symposium for three years, but have stopped attending as I don't qualify for a media pass as I am not full-time media.  Do I need to attend Uptime Symposium to learn?  No, because I have access to the data center executives through my blog.  5 years ago it was useful, but I find I don't need to go to Uptime.  Someone could say that i should see the analysts presentations, but it is not worth $1,500 for me to learn how they explain something that I almost always know already.

2. In the early days of The Green Grid I would go to a few meetings to hear what is up with their standards.  I don't have a media pass, and it is not worth paying $5,000 a year to get an early disclosure of their specifications.   It has been said that The Green Grid is a good networking event, but I doubt I am going to meet somebody new that is worth $5,000 plus T&E to get to conferences.  I cannot say whether The Green Grid is worth attending for a person new to data centers as I haven't gone to a meeting for over 3 years.  If your goal is to have input on The Green Grid specifications then you should definitely consider going.

3. DatacenterDynamics I have attend in SF, Seattle, London and New York.  I find DCD is convenient for those who want a one day event close to the city they are located.  I attend DCD Seattle on an annual basis.

4. I've gone to Gartner Data Center Conference a couple of times and I find it is a good event for those who live by the Gartner gospel.  If you are a user who believes Gartner is your path of learning, then going to Gartner Data Center Conference makes sense.  One thing I did find is the A team doesn't go to Gartner, so I have passed on the event for the last few years.

5. Green Data Center Conference I haven't attended.  I requested a media pass a couple of years ago and they denied my request.  They have since offered a media pass, but I haven't found any of my friends recommend attending.

6. AFCOM Data Center World I have gone to a couple of times and if your goal is to meet other vendors then it is an event to consider as it has the widest range of data center vendors.  If you are a small - midsize end user looking for vendors then it is a good event.  On the other hand the A team players don't attend as they have no shortage of vendor contacts who are ready to make a visit to them.

7. Google Energy Summit I have gone to the 2009 event, was invited to the 2011 but couldn't attend, and just went to 2013 event.  This is an invitation only event.  Many of the leading people in data center industry attend as well as a broader range of environmental executives.  If you do get an invite I would highly recommend attending.

8. For an Enterprise customer base I have gone to IBM Pulse and Impact.  I find these useful to have discussions with IBM executives which I have access to through a media pass.  I don't attend many of the IBM events, but I find them useful to get insight into what is going on with the Enterprise users.  FYI, most of my time is spent with the Web2.0 type of companies.  Lately the Web2.0 methodologies have been adopted by the bigger enterprises and is part of IBM's product offerings.

9. Open Compute Summits I have enjoyed and gone to every one of them in Palo Alto, New York, San Antonio, and Santa Clara.  Open Compute is geared towards the Web 2.0 technical decision makers for low cost infrastructure built on open source ideas.  While some of the above conferences have slowed in growth or declined, Open Compute continues to attract more users every conference.  There is a nice mix of thought leaders and people who want to learn how to build from the Open Compute Project's open sourcing of data center technologies.

10. Part of what affects my attendance to the above events is that I find going to 7x24 Exchange conferences twice a year gets me out talking to friends often enough, once every 6 months.  I can get access to the speakers before and after to chat about the presentations that I am interested writing blog posts.  7x24 Exchange currently has the right mix I am looking for presentations, end users, vendors, and good friends.

Over time I have gotten to know more of the executives and staff at 7x24 Exchange, DCD, Google Energy Summit, and Open Compute Summit which makes it even easier for me to write blog posts and have interesting discussions. 

I was extremely lucky to start my data center conference journey with Mike Manos and Christian Belady's help, and I hope this post helps you to figure out what data center conference you want to attend.