For the first time in Australia the mammoth Networld + Interop circus came to town, and they brought their own network with them. The team has been doing this for so long that they have worked out how to put an entire multi-protocol network into a suitcase - well, probably several extremely large suitcases - and trundle from country to country providing the backbone network for all the locals to plug into and display their network-wares.
For the Sydney bash the NOC (network operations centre) team, which includes members from prestigious industry players such as Bay, 3Com, SGI et al, only brought what is in their terms a baby network. But it was certainly serious in local terms. Plenty of Sydney businesses would die for a network like this in their own building. Maybe they could sell it off after the show as a souvenir? They could also set up a nice side-line in network disaster recovery too - have network will travel. If you've got a protocol that isn't supported by this crowd, you either need to update or hire a patent lawyer.
The idea behind this show, ostensibly, is to prove to the world that every vendor's products work with every other vendor's products, leaving the happy network manager feeling secure in the knowledge that whatever they buy will work with whatever they own.
That may well be the case in the networked '90s, but no-one on the vendors' stands was proudly announcing their interoperability, or even if it existed. Most of the market-scarred veterans preferred to tell you that they now have such a wide range of widgets that you don't need to interoperate, as they can supply everything you'd ever want, and if they can't, well, give them a couple of weeks and they'll acquire a company that can deliver your requirements.
Anyone who is anyone, and everyone who wants to be anyone, was represented at the exhibition, held in the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre at Darling Harbour. Spread over three halls, it required some serious walking to see all the stands and shows. Yes, that's right, shows. Many vendors have obviously decided that their products are so me-too that the only way to get your attention is to run the equivalent of sideshow alley at the old Luna Park. I didn't see anyone advertising a bearded lady, but Digital hired what seemed like the entire cast of TV's Fast Forward to run through endless renditions of "I did it my way" with the words twisted to "we do it your way". You'll be hearing from Paul Anka's copyright lawyers real soon guys.
Nearby, another vendor had a magician in full-flight enthralling the assembled crowd and handing out t-shirts to audience participators. Nice move guys - I have no idea who the vendor was, but I remember the magician. The score so far: marketing: one - logic: nil. Novell wasn't about to be outdone, so they had their own MC show-casing their products, but at least he seemed to be talking about the stuff they make rather than just being entertaining - just as well - don't give up your day job, whoever you were. I asked a jaded on-looker wearing one of the bright red visitor's tags - these are designed so that vendors can easily spot the punters and ignore the media - "what do you think of it so far?" "It's all the same," he replied. Well, this is the first damn show they've done so exactly what is it the same as? "All the stands are the same," he explained. "Everyone seems to be selling the same things, just in different colours."
Maybe that's a sign of maturity in the network industry. Now that we all know what you need to build a network, it's come down to choosing the colour that matches your office decor, safely assuming that everything will work as advertised. I trapped another show-goer between two stands and asked if there was anything that he found appealing. "Oh yes, the hot roasted nuts at the DMA stand were terrific, the free teddy bear from D-Link and where did you get that Lotus backpack?" I told him they were being given out to journalists to carry their mountains of press releases. He wanted one. Damn. Another hike to the media room at the far end of the building and up three flights of stairs to get a replacement. There's no such thing as a free hunch.
If you'd been to this year's ATUG show in Melbourne, you would have noticed a strong similarity between the two, including the mini-golf range at thing-a-me's stand and the video-arcade car racing at I-forget-which-vendor's stand. It's definitely a carnival atmosphere and the free ice-creams ran out before I got to yet another vendor's stand. I thought the idea was to impress you with the vendor's technology and make you want to buy their products? Silly me.
Down in the bowels of the convention centre, in the grand ballroom, another group of serious vendor-hype was being displayed at the new Interop Dot Com exhibition. There was actually a lot more demonstration of products and services going on here at this side-event, which was billed as "business on the Internet". Here the only obvious freebies were a cup of coffee from Lotus, or Netscape; however, the latter turned out to be charging $2.00 - but then their browser isn't free either.
The Interop Dot Com exhibition was chock-full of web servers, ISP's, firewalls and gateways to nirvana, and some really useful information was being espoused. Since absolutely everyone has a network these days, but nowhere near everyone has hooked their company up to the Internet, this probably represented a real desire by show-goers to find out how to get the last pieces of the network puzzle in place, and the vendors discovered that people would step up and ask intelligent questions without being coerced by jugglers and clowns.
The first Sydney Networld + Interop was also politically correct. Notable by their absence were the bevies of scantily clad women thrusting Black Box catalogues in your face that seem ever-present at most technology shows, including ATUG's recent bash. Perhaps serious networkers are not as sexist as their counterparts in telecommunications. Or maybe they just prefer computers.
Best stand (entertainment): Digital Equipment Corporation - "We do it your way"Best stand (products): Anixter, particularly their Fluke hand-held LAN analyser. I want one.
Worst stand (entertainment): Novell - hire a professional if you're going to do a snake-oil sales routine.
Worst stand (products): Sun Microsystems - twenty cardboard replicas of Java stations don't inspire confidence in the new wave of networking.
Best speech: Geoff Huston - explaining the Internet in Australia at last.
Worst speech: John Gerdelman - a keynote is NOT supposed to be a sales spiel.
Best coffee: Lotus - drinkable and free.
Worst coffee: Netscape - vile tasting, lukewarm and you had to pay for it.