Education Is The Name Of The Game At SNW

Everyone should understand why the educational value of trade shows still makes them an industry necessity even in difficult economic times. The semi-annual Storage Networking World (SNW) conference, held recently in Phoenix, Arizona, serves as an illustration. SNW is a joint venture between Computerworld and the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA).

David Hill

October 27, 2009

5 Min Read
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Everyone should understand why the educational value of trade shows still makes them an industry necessity even in difficult economic times. The semi-annual Storage Networking World (SNW) conference, held recently in Phoenix, Arizona, serves as an illustration. SNW is a joint venture between Computerworld and the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA).

Not surprisingly, SNW is suffering from the same economic challenges that face trade shows in general. Reduced IT budgets mean that end users (by which SNW means IT professionals) find it harder and harder to travel to meetings (as travel budget line items are often considered discretionary). Vendors also have constrained budgets and want to spend their trade show dollars on events that deliver the maximum number of qualified sales leads.

That I observed, the SNW-Phoenix exhibition area seemed smaller than usual, but the ratio of end users to vendors appeared higher than in the recent past. That is an important point because one of the criticisms of SNW has been that it was not end user-oriented, although that was its purpose. This time around, end users seemed satisfied with the banquet of educational choices available to them, and Raymond Kurzweil highlighted why that's important in his cornerstone general presentation.

Kurzweil offered a not-to-be-missed stage setter on "The Exponential Growth of Information Technology." Kurzweil is a well-known inventor, responsible for inventions such as the first text-to-speech device for the blind, and a technological visionary (a book about what he describes as the "singularity" explains many of his views).

His basic thesis -- and one supported by thorough and compelling research shown in a number of graphics -- is that information technology's progress is eminently predictable, although individual applications of that technology may or may not be predicted, and it will grow exponentially for a long time. Even though a particular predictive tool, such as Moore's Law, may eventually run out of steam, it is only one of many predictors of the future of information technology. Moreover, Kurzweil posited that external circumstances, such as economic conditions, simply do not and will not affect that future growth.Continued exponential growth is hard to comprehend and can have both frightening and exhilarating consequences. Of course, there are the existential downsides of the misuse of advanced technology, but hopefully that frightful part will not materialize. However, a possible point of concern rests on whether or not we will be able to absorb all the changes that come about through the growth of information technology.

The exhilarating side of Kurzweil's vision is that information technology will, as it has for decades, continue to be a dynamic driver of economic growth on the macro level, and a source of employment and education at the individual and organizational level. The educational imperative of the SNW conference fit well within the need to continue to study and understand the implications of information technology evolution.

At SNW, the general morning sessions were a mix of name vendor and end user presentations, while the Expo featured the vendor booths typical of any trade show. Otherwise, seven concurrent sessions were held. Among them were:

  • Summits: An afternoon track of presentations aiming at in-depth education on a particular topic. Attendees were exposed to perspectives from analysts, vendors and end users; the topics selected were Solid State Storage, Virtualization, and Cloud Computing, which are three of the hottest subjects in the industry. This seems like a good approach as it provided a multi-course meal rather than an a la carte selection.

  • Hands-on Labs: Learning through doing is a powerful educational tool and working through exercises with real software and hardware can be very helpful. Even though such sessions cannot cover everything, participants should be able to gain a better appreciation of a particular technology. Of course, data deduplication and solid state storage are hot topics, but emerging technologies -- FCoE and enhanced internet and IP storage solutions -- also commanded attention. In addition storage virtualization and storage management rounded out the labs.

  • SNIA Tutorials: SNIA typically does a good job of conducting technical tutorial tracks. Even though a particular vendor may present a tutorial session, it has typically been vetted by other vendors (notably its competitors) so that the presentation is mostly vendor neutral. Tutorial tracks included storage and storage management, data protection and management, networking, security, professional development and green storage.

  • SNIA Certification Exams: These provide an opportunity for IT professionals to add specialized credentials to their resumes; however, SNW's offerings consisted not only of the exams themselves, but also certification/qualification preparation sessions in areas including storage networking, storage virtualization and data protection as well as some vendor specific exams.

  • Classic Tracks: SNW did not ignore the "classic" single-subject presentations that attendees could choose from on an ad hoc basis; data archiving, cloud/storage as a service, solid state storage and data deduplication were among the topics covered.


Storage Networking World is not the only storage trade show (Storage Decisions and Storage Visions being others). Nor is it the trade show that attracts the greatest attention from storage vendors (VMworld has that honor). However, with all the changes that are occurring in the IT industry in general and with storage networking playing a central role in many of those developments, I believe that keeping up with what is happening and continuing to learn is critically important to storage professionals.

Despite all the Webinars, white papers, trade publications, books and the like, the ability to see and hear presentations live, to see new products and discuss them with experts, to interact with your peers and to get the latest thinking on topics relevant to you and your job is an important process. Those objectives can all be accomplished in the multi-day immersion of a trade show. Despite all the challenges, SNW still meets the critical educational needs and goals of it target audience so it serves as an example of the continued relevancy and importance of trade shows to IT professionals.

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