I have been a regular visitor to Interop in the US for nearly 15 years and have found it a reasonable guide to what is going to happen in networking and communications over the coming months and years. This show has both scale (over 500 networking and communications vendors exhibiting) and focus, something that events in Australia cannot match.
At this year's show in Las Vegas I got to hear about what's coming from industry leaders such as Citrix CEO, Mark Templeton, Secure Computing chairman, John McNulty, McAfee CEO, David DeWalt, and senior executives from Oracle, Motorola, Microsoft and WebEx among others.
At the end of each show I generally leave with an impression of the key technology trends I feel are worth watching. This year, however, felt slightly different. While there were some "hot" technologies, such as virtualisation, there's a host of other developments and industry forces combining to create an industry tipping or inflection point.
Theme 1 - Green IT: This year's Interop was all about greening vendor offerings. In some cases this got brutally competitive. For example, Nortel was doing direct power consumption and running cost comparisons against Cisco with a comparable datacentre switch. In the US a number of vendors formed an alliance in 2007 called the Green Grid (currently about 170 members) to promote and showcase green initiatives. At Interop approximately 40 members exhibited.
This sudden switch to green is not entirely environmentally altruistic. Several US utility providers and state governments are offering substantial rebates for green IT initiatives that reduce power consumption to the point where these rebates can substantially change the ROI of new datacentre initiatives. In California for example, $US4m in rebates is up for grabs for physical server removals.
Most of the datacentre infrastructure vendors including traditional hardware players - APC, Foundry (winner of the new Interop Green IT award) - as well as the virtualisation vendors - VMware, Citrix, Novell - had strong green IT messages. The SMB/mid-market vendors like Netgear, McAfee and LG-Nortel also had green campaigns, which were often about collapsing multiple appliances into a single lower-powered device.
Network test and monitoring vendors were also highlighting new features in their products that could estimate/project, measure and graph the power consumption of various components.
Theme 2 - Virtualisation: This space attracted a lot of attention driven by the primary virtualisation vendors with hypervisor technology, such as VMware, Citrix and Microsoft, as well as other Xen/open source vendors. A raft of complementary and supporting vendors were also on display. Some of these are known in the Australian market, but there's many smaller US-centric players rapidly being acquired by larger vendors for their supporting role in the virtualisation solution - Platespin is now a Novell company and was on the Novell stand for example.
The underlying theme was not why to adopt virtualisation, but more about when and what customers will virtualise.
Theme 3 - SaaS: While most people would immediately think Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), there were a number of vendors offering Storage-as-as-Service: Via the Internet and based on a per user, per month model.
In the traditional software space, a large number of security vendors, such as Barracuda and McAfee, were offering products either as appliances, as server-based tools or through SaaS and allowing customers to choose which method suits.
There were also plenty of vendors offering applications as a service such as accounting and document management. However what was more interesting was the number of vendors offering supporting tools or applications (some delivered as a SaaS model themselves) to assist with building, deploying and managing SaaS applications. These included billing, performance management and end-user customer Web experience modelling, hosting companies, ISV conversion tools and interfaces to other leading and traditional SaaS vendors like Oracle, SAP and SalesForce.