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VMworld In Retrospect

It would be hard to call the recent VMworld anything but a rousing success. After all, 20,000 attendees descended on the Venetian in Vegas, and the vast majority would agree the trip was worth it. However the total experience wasn’t perfect, and as someone who’s attended, covered and occasionally exhibited at conferences for more than 25 years, I think it’s time for VMware to stop running the whole show themselves and hire a professional trade show management company.

The main problem I saw was a lack of onsite show management. Back in the day, the Interface Group ran Comdex, which was, interestingly enough, owned by Shelly Adelson. Adelson made enough money running Comdex that he built the Venetian where VMworld was held. Bill Curley, Ross Holiker and their team would make sure exhibitors didn’t run their PA systems too loud or continuously draw a crowd that blocked the aisles. VMworld this year needed that kind of management.

One vendor in the 200 or 300 aisle had a sub-woofer pumping so loudly it interfered with conversation across the whole show floor and out into the bloggers' corner outside the show floor. If I had to guess, it was so loud that it exceeded the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommended limit of 85db.That, of course, caused every other vendor that had any sort of amplification for in-booth magicians or demos to turn up the volume to the point that it was impossible to have a business conversation without shouting.

The folks at the VCE booth had some give-away going that packed not just all the aisles surrounding their booth but spilled over into the surrounding booths--inconveniencing anyone who needed to walk past and effectively stealing space from the surrounding vendors. Meanwhile, another vendor lined up its booth babes across the aisle so you couldn’t pass without getting your badge scanned by one of the young ladies.

There’s good precedent for a vendor bringing in professional management for its events. Novell ran the first two NetWorld events by themselves but then licensed the show to HA Bruno, the producers of PC Expo, to run. I don’t think VMware should give up control of the education side of the event; it's just that the show floor has grown past the point where it can be left unmanaged as a sideshow.

Similarly, I understand why VMware wants to move its show back to San Francisco’s Moscone Center next year. It’s easier to run a show at home, not to mention cheaper to bring in local employees. I wish, however, that VMware would do what Microsoft’s done with TechEd and instead go to a large convention center where it can turn multiple exhibit halls into large session rooms that can hold thousands. Many VMworld sessions were "sold out" weeks before the event, which tells me there just weren’t enough big rooms to put the popular sessions in.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy VMworld is to some extent filling the vacuum created by the collapse of Comdex and PC Expo and the shrinking of Interop. I just wish VMware would realize that that is what’s happened, and stop thinking of the conference as purely a channel for communications between VMware and its customers.