My Experience at InteropITX 2017 / Where was the Wi-Fi?

As one of the last, national, vendor agnostic conferences in networking, Interop has seen itself transform over the years. Crowd sizes have varied, content has shifted, vendors have come and gone, but it has persisted.

In 2017, we saw Interop get a new name – InteropITX. If I told you that I knew what the ITX was for without Googling it, I’d be lying.  About 4 minutes later:

In its 31st year, Interop added ITX to its name to reflect the next generation of the Interop brand which keeps apace the rapidly changing needs of a modern IT organization. Interop ITX is about technology excellence. Interop ITX is about IT experience. Interop ITX is about the X factor – what’s needed to thrive in this rapidly changing environment. 

A change in experience. Fittingly, and totally unknowingly planned from my perspective, this was the theme of my week in Las Vegas.

It was evident that change was in the air. A new venue: The MGM Grand Conference Center. A new exhibit hall: sized perfectly for the event. Tracks that were broken out into easy to follow sections:

Although there were 6 distinct tracks, it seemed like security was the thought on everyone’s mind. From the keynotes to the demos, to the conversation at the podiums and beyond there was an underlying tone of making sure the “security first” mindset. It was one of the key takeaways .. in addition to those crazy Watchguard bears.

The “User Experience” was also a common theme with some of the sessions I attended, as well as my own. How you are connected matters less than what you are connected to and when you are connected to it. The topics around SDN and SD-WAN were focused on providing the best experience for the users on a network based on their needs. Automation, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence dominated the “buzzword bingo” by talking about making your network smarter and more efficient using data from the network, sensors, and users to optimize data delivery in microseconds as opposed to taking humans thousands of years to do so.

Examples of the computer beating Kasparov at Chess or creatively taking down Lee Se-dol 4-1 at Go were side by side with how Google deployed that same technology to increase efficiencies by handing one of it’s data centers over to AI.

// Once again, one of my favorite booths was the NBASE-T Alliance.
Peter and the crew and brought together vendors like Spirent, Intel, Panduit, Meraki, Aquantia, MicroSemi, FlukeAukua, and the UNH Interoperability Testing Lab (IOL) to have a plugfest and show off their (gasp!) INTEROPERABILITY. This always makes me miss Interopnet. I pine for the days of a datacenter on the show floor.

It was great to see more vendors, some we didn’t see last year, jumping into the multi-gig copper game. If you don’t know, one of the key points of NBASE-T Alliance is to promote doing more with the investments you already have. Don’t re-cable if you need multi-gig and don’t go crazy with 10Gbps fiber if you only need 2.5-5Gbps. It’s one of those common sense things that I love seeing product announcements for adopting the technology. Keep up the great work guys!

InteropITX Continues to Be An Important and Great Event

It’s clear that the vision of InteropITX changing the “experience” was more than just a logo with 3 new letters at the end of it. This show did a great job, at the perfect moment, of signaling the changing experiences of our users via the networks we’re connected to and the way we use, consume, and provide data to make our jobs and lives better. Kudos to the team at UBM for sticking with the times and showing that you can continue to roll with the industry by crafting an event that supports the future of data communications.

Also, special thanks to Madeleina and Susan for everything you guys do! Meghan, great job!

So, what was missing from this event?


Wireless Vendors in attendance: 2.5
Extreme,  2 guys from Meraki, and Watchguard.
Although I think Extreme counts as like 4 vendors at this point. 
Thank you for the support. It was great to see you there!!

Wireless sessions at the event: 4
A 3-hour workshop, Wi-Fi for High-density and Campus, Wi-Fi Gotchas to Avoid, and Artificial Intelligence for Wi-FI. There was another wireless session by a vendor, but that vendor didn’t have a booth.

Here’s my question:

Where was the wireless industry?

Why didn’t they show up?

If there would’ve been more vendors who signed up, I probably could’ve wrangled more content. They probably would’ve had more room especially if a company was making a commitment. But there weren’t wireless companies making a commitment. Hell, they gave away a slot to a vendor that didn’t even have a booth!

Also, just sayin: Cisco should’ve been all over this. There must’ve been 300 APs in the venue!!

Got a Better Offer?

The speculation was heavy amongst attendees: Maybe Cisco really wanted to focus on Cisco Live coming up in a few weeks. Maybe Aruba has shifted to put emphasis on Atmosphere and Discover. Maybe Ruckus is still working out their stuff. Even at that, there are a few more players in the industry. Where was Mist? Aerohive? Xirrus / Riverbed? Huawei? Mojo Networks? Fortinet? Cambium? Ubiquiti? Even EnGenius didn’t show this year!

I spoke last year about how important it was for wireless to have a stand-out presence at events like these. With stats like “70% of all data is delivered across wireless networks” you would think that at a show focused on connecting clients to networks would be attractive to people who make equipment in that space. I tried to prove my point at the Network Field Day 15 event this past Spring with my mic-drop burner of a question “How many of you have a cable plugged in right now?”

So I ask you dear reader, how many of you are reading this one a device that is attached to an Ethernet cable? How prevalent is wireless technology? And if your answer is anything like mine, why wouldn’t the vendor community support an event with an emphasis on data delivery?

After wrapping my 3-hour session about Emerging Wireless Technologies and Services, and attending the other standing-room-only sessions for Wi-Fi a few things became absolutely clear:

1. There is an ENORMOUS demand for wireless information from a vendor-agnostic perspective. 
I had around 150 people in my session and about another hundred that were turned away because there was nowhere for them to sit. Over the course of the session, some would leave but get immediately replaced by someone waiting outside. The other sessions discussing wireless were the same.

2. The people looking for the information are seriously, honestly, thirsty for the knowledge. 
And they are not you regular wireless people. I canvassed just my group and found 4 hands go up when asked “How many of you consider yourself good at wireless?” 4 out of 200.

3. Understanding basic principals of design, functionality, and troubleshooting are in great demand.
“If I just buy the most expensive stuff, it does all that for me, right?” was actually a question at one of the events.

4. Everyone is talking about security, but few are looking at the connection medium.
Wireless attacks are going to get more pervasive as IoT takes over. It’s a given. Wi-Fi is wide-open when it comes to being a threat surface, but if the industry continues to focus on the user and the network, who’s watching the air?

All 4 of those points are things that I would imagine an industry that provides access points, hardware, and software would say “Hey, I can point them in the right direction” but the wireless industry was a no call, no show.

In the same fashion that I would pen a letter to an employee that is having a rough time at their job, I want to write one to my beloved Wi-Fi industry:

Dear Wireless Industry,
Hey, help me out here guys. I love being a wireless nerd. I love the industry, the products, the services, and all the amazing advancements. You guys are killing it when it comes to getting great product to market, listening to feedback, and improving feature sets. 

However, by not representing what you do and helping the customers that need you the most except when it’s on your terms, it’s really getting tough to show the love. Without your support in places where people are turning up to find answers unaccompanied by sales pitches, customers will continue to have issues they don’t understand because they need help and direction in addition to data sheets and part numbers.

Your shows, like Atmosphere and Cisco Live, are great and full of awesome information, but not everyone can justify attendance to a single-vendor event. 

Please help me, as a VAR/Integrator and a consultant, help you. Please get involved in events like InteropITX that are trying to give the industry a place that everyone can attend to see how their networks and management are supposed to work together. They’re trying to figure it out from a big picture perspective that involves more than just the products from a single vendor. These guys really need our help, now more than ever. 

I hope you feel better soon and I look forward to seeing you when you’re ready to get back to work. The customers are waiting for us too and the longer we wait to help them, the more trouble they’re going to get themselves into. See you soon.

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