A few years ago, the Networld+Interop conference was one of the biggest in the computer industry, even one of the biggest to be held in Las Vegas. The show routinely absorbed all of the meeting space in the Las Vegas Convention Center, plus virtually all of the meeting space in the adjacent Las Vegas Hilton and Towers, and vendors still were looking for places to meet.
This year, N+I is a shadow of its former self. The back exhibit halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center are empty; the Hilton is playing host to a garage door convention. It seems more like the old Interop shows of the early 1990s, rather than the "power broker" events of 1999 or 2000.
Has networking become less important? No, but the radical developments of the last decade -- the move to IP, Ethernet and Web-based applications -- are largely in hand. The big controversies now surround emerging, yet less central, issues such as wireless technology or anti-spam applications. The days of using a show like N+I to test critical networking decisions -- such as routing or switching -- are waning, if not entirely gone. It's much more "business as usual" today, with fewer infrastructure decisions to make.
The fact is that networking is still essential to every enterprise, but the architectural choices are less diverse and complicated. Despite the shrinking halls of N+I, it's no less important -- though maybe a little less exciting.