VMWorld 2011: Observations from the New Innovators corner.
by Troy Topnik

Troy Topnik, September 7, 2011

They finally let me out of the office! ActiveState sent me to Las Vegas to man the booth (sorry, New Innovators pod) at VMWorld 2011, talk to people about Stackato, and run through some demos. As a newcomer to Las Vegas and the tech conference circuit, here are a few of my observations.

VMWorld is huge

Even with hurricane Irene causing travel havoc and cancellations for east coast attendees, there were around 20,000 people there. Remember that warehouse scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark? Imagine that with tables, chairs, food, hundreds of waiters and thousands of people with identical backpacks and you have some concept of what the lunches were like. It would have been utterly dehumanizing but for the genuine friendliness of everyone working there.

Sands Hall G

The exhibition hall (AKA the Solutions Exchange) just above the catering catacombs was just as big, but the giant booths of VMWare, EMC, Cisco, HP, CA, Intel et al broke up the space more, so it didn't seem quite so overwhelming. That said, it was a long walk to the New Innovators section every morning. They stuck us newbies way at the back of the hall.

ActiveState has fans

Even stuck way in the back corner, people came to find us and see what we were up to. Even people who came across our booth by accident sometimes told us they'd been using ActivePerl or Komodo for years. It was incredibly encouraging to start off these conversations on such a positive note. Though this conference was not focused on software development, there was a lot of good will from unexpected quarters. These people were happy to hear about Stackato and the demos were well received.

VCs ask the best questions

The tech industry tends towards buzzwords and acronyms, and this conference had those in abundance. For the uninitiated (i.e. me) it was often hard to puzzle out exactly what some exhibitors actually did, even after talking to the booth staff for a few minutes. The language of enterprise virtualization is pretty impenetrable, even for those with a tech industry background.

One group who seemed to be able to cut through the buzzwords and get answers in plain English were the venture capitalists. They weren't interested in how your XRPN Solution monitored the FRQ layer of the Cloud Combobulator. They would ask things like "Why should I care about this?" or "Who are you trying to sell this to?". If the answers weren't direct and comprehensible, they wouldn't waste any more time on the conversation.

Private PaaS requires some explanation

People who knew what Platform as a Service is understood Stackato pretty quickly. We just had to say "Stackato is that, but it supports multiple languages and you get to own it."

For people who weren't familiar with the concept, I generally had to provide a little back story on Heroku and Engine Yard, and how that has changed the application hosting/deployment landscape. Once they could see what Stackato is and what it does (the demos helped), most people liked what they saw.

Many of the booth visitors were IT admins or managers rather than developers. They didn't really care much about how easy it was to deploy applications ("that's the developer's problem"), but they were interested in not having to configure the application hosting environments manually.

Las Vegas is Insane

I guess when you have so many people coming to your show, you've got to put it in a city that can handle that many people showing up. Not only am I a tech conference newbie, but this was my first time in Las Vegas. I couldn't help but noticing:

  • It's hot. Like, 40C / 104F hot.
  • It's dry. Kudos to AT&T for giving out lip balm at their booth!
  • It's expensive. Vegas seems to be moving to a new business model. Instead of giving you free drinks and food then taking everything from you at the tables, they've surrounded the newer casinos with high end shopping malls where you pay $10 for a yogurt or $30 for a pair of socks. I understand the Cartier stores being there for the high rollers, but c'mon.
  • There was a shuttle bus from our hotel to the convention center... across the street.

Last but not least, there's the Double Down Saloon, "Birthplace of the Bacon Martini" and the perfect antidote to all of the above.

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As ActiveState's Technical Product Manager for Stackato, Troy Topnik is responsible for defining and prioritizing the product roadmap to build the best cloud platform for deploying applications. Since joining ActiveState in 2001, he has held roles in Technical Support, Training, and Technical Writing. He believes in documentation-driven development as a pragmatic path to a better user experience.