(Disclaimer: This post was co-written by Leon and Kevin and presents a point/counterpoint style view of Cisco Live US 2019. But without either calling the other “ignorant” or insulting their choice in quantity of romantic liaisons.)

 

Kevin M. SparenbergThis year, once again, it was my absolute pleasure to be part of the staff that attended Cisco Live! US. Part of my time was spent in the booth and the rest of my time was spent in various sessions to catch up on everything from the last year. If there’s one thing that really resonated with me this year, even more than previous, was how quickly IT is moving.
This year, in a flurry of last-minute activity, I discovered I would be attending Cisco Live. Because of its proximity to the Jewish holiday of Shavuot (which is most notable for commandment to consume vast quantities of cheesecake. I regret nothing.) I didn’t think I’d be attending. But I did, and I’m extremely happy the powers-that-be at SolarWinds helped make that happen. Because let me tell you, times, they are a-changing!Leon Adato
Kevin M. Sparenberg

At the SolarWinds® booth, we talked about all the greatest additions and updates to the portfolio of products. In the last year, SolarWinds has released 32 updates to existing products or completely new products. To say it’s been a busy year may just be a tad bit of an understatement. For booth visitors, we got to show off some of the new enhancements to our network management portfolio and retread some of the past favorites (looking at you here, NetPath).

It really should come as no surprise that “it’s been a busy year.” They’re all busy. You folks keep telling us about persistent problems and challenges, and that’s what we set out to fix. If you’ve been following these Cisco Live reports for even a couple of years, you know that this is the time when we release those solutions into the wild.

Leon Adato
Kevin M. SparenbergThis year, more than most, I spoke with more people whose title didn’t include the word “network.” On the surface this would seem odd, but more and more organizations are recognizing that networks aren’t what their end users interact with, it’s the highway on which those interactions happen. Having a blazing fast network is great but doesn’t help if you are connecting to a server which takes 1,500 milliseconds to even send back the first bit of data. If that happens, you’re still going to have a horrible experience. As a former network engineer, I know the network is always blamed first, but how often is it really a network problem?

From MS Ignite to VMWorld to Cisco Live, I’ve been noticing that the same people are at every show. I don’t mean the same EXACT people, like some weird convention groupies or something. I mean that rather than having strictly systems folks coming to Ignite, virtualization admins at VMWorld, and network engineers at Cisco Live, the people who visit are concerned with multiple (or all) areas of their environment. They’re as likely to talk about virtual database instances on vSANs as they are about load balancing or traditional route/switch.

Leon Adato

Day One

 

Kevin M. Sparenberg

But those that know us, know that like to have fun at these events. One of those things was #KiltedMonday, which is a tradition that the Monday of Cisco Live! US, attendees are encouraged to wear their kilts instead of the blasé pants. I added a kilt to my ensemble a few years ago, and I kept it strong this year. As good as it was to be able to show off my shins, it was good to speak with everyone who came up to the booth. But the best part, the absolute best part, was introducing some new SolarWinds people to the booth experience.

 

We had a handful of “raw” recruits this year. This wasn’t just their first Cisco Live, this was their first ever event with SolarWinds. Monday is always a mad dash for swag, new feature demos, and saying “hi” to old friends. All I can say is that the new recruits did a smashing job at handling the flow, pivoting on topics, and responding to questions. Day one is typically the most hectic and a good trial-by-fire. Not too much unlike starting a new job in IT.

Monday was still a holiday for me.

Leon Adato
Kevin M. Sparenberg

Status update: Voice is already scratchy. Must come up with a regiment so I don’t “talk” myself hoarse on the first day.

Day Two

 

This was my first day on the show floor, and I have to tell you there’s no convention like Cisco Live. It’s hard to describe the intensity of the folks who come to the booth, the level of depth we get to go into in our conversations and demos, and the sheer love—of the product, of the philosophy of monitoring, and of the team. I’ve taken to ask visitors to the booth what THEY think the “big story” of Cisco Live is. On Day 2, all anyone could talk about was the changes to Cisco Certification program. Immediately after the keynote, there were a lot of emotions… ahem… “passionately held and strongly worded opinions” across the convention floor, but by the end of the day the prevailing wisdom could be summarized as:

  1. It’s not changing immediately
  2. Most certifications aren’t going away
  3. This makes it easier for certain folks (especially CCIE’s) to re-up their cert

…and thus, calm was restored to the masses.

Leon Adato
Kevin M. Sparenberg

On day 2, we held a SolarWinds User Group™ at Roy’s Restaurant right next to the San Diego Conference Center. The venue was gorgeous with vistas overlooking the marina and fantastic Polynesian fusion food. The signature mai tais were not to be missed. At that event, Chris O’Brien, Group Product Manager for the SolarWinds Network Management portfolio talked about all the goodness we delivered the week before. Then it was up to me to talk about everything else that SolarWinds released in the last year. Needless to say, I didn’t cover everything, or I’d still be there talking. Part of SWUG™ is the presentations, but most of SWUG is the conversations between customers. The best, most important part of our community is you, the people who work with our solutions every day. I’m constantly amazed at how gracious and courteous you are with any newcomers to the THWACK® community. You share your expertise, tips, tricks, and more with anyone willing to ask. If I had the opportunity to shake hands with every member who has helped me over the years, I’d do it in a heartbeat and be humbled by the experience. This is just one reason that I feel this is the greatest community in IT. With day two wrapping, I was both exhausted and energized for the rest of the week.

Day Three

 

Kevin M. Sparenberg

The post-SWUG hangover is always a rough day. It’s not to say that it’s a true hangover, but the exhilaration of speaking with so many people can make the follow-up day feel just a little bit longer. Thankfully, there was a new wave of swag in the booth, which makes the customer-in-me always happy. Today’s “word” of the day was API and I don’t care how you pronounce it (cue Leon groaning at me). I find it very profound that technology is so cyclical. When we started, everything was command line interface only, then we moved onto a GUI, and now we’re back to command line. It’s just one of those oddities that I’ve picked up being in the industry for so many years. As new technology comes out, there’s a push, nearly a requirement, to make sure that you can attach to it via a programmable interface.

The big story from the floor was the way Cisco is adopting a “Meraki style” process to integrating new features into their product. What I mean by that is this: When you have Meraki wireless controllers, when a new feature comes out, the software updates in the cloud and BOOM! you’re in business. And honestly, this has been one of the big complaints of CLUS attendees for several years. They come to the show, get all hyped up on the latest tech (including DNA and intent-based networking), and then go back to their office, only to realize that the molecules they have on site (i.e., the physical gear) can’t handle it, and won’t be retired for several years. While the bean counters may complain about subscription-based models, the fact that it will get the new code into our shops is going to change the speed at which new technologies, protocols, and techniques are adopted.

Leon Adato

Day Four

 

Kevin M. Sparenberg

The last day on the show floor for the booth staff brought both sighs of relief and sadness at parting. I love talking to people, so the final day always makes me a little sad. I love hearing how everyone is handling their own IT infrastructure. No one has infinite time, so you’ll never get to work hands-on with every technology. Being able to hear what various attendees got from the event is always a high point. Yes, there were product announcements, new technologies, and enhancements abounded, but the real thing for me is the community that happens at events. Part of that is connecting with other people. Those people could be coworkers from another office, other IT professionals you’ve gone to for advice, or new people you meet for the first time. One of the ways that I leveraged this event to reconnect was to go to lunch with my friend and co-worker, Leon, where we discussed our personal findings on the event. That, in part, was the impetus of this post.

One attendee told me he thought that “the ubiquity of the story around ‘umbrella’” was the big story for the show. Which is awesome (because #SECURITY!) but it’s also amusing, because you can find “Introducing Umbrella” as a session at every Cisco Live (US, EUR, LATAM, and APAC) back to 2016. Even at SolarWinds, we know that sometimes you have to keep talking about an idea for a bit before people start to notice it (looking at you, AppStack™). The other story worth noting was just how busy the expo floor remained. We had folks coming into the booth asking serious questions, and looking for in-depth demonstrations, up to 30 minutes AFTER they closed the show down. Now THOSE are some dedicated IT professionals!

Leon Adato

The Completely Un-Necessary Summary

 

Kevin M. Sparenberg

At the end of the week, the biggest takeaway for me was the number of non-network people walking around Cisco Live. This concerned a handful of the booth staff, some of the other vendors, and many of the attendees, but not me. For me, this was the year when topics started shifting from an us vs. them to more of an us with them focus. Functional silos are great for training and specialization, but horrible for troubleshooting real-world issues. The number of systems administrators, security operations professionals, and monitoring engineers this year was up and that made me smile. Attendees inquiring about how complete stack monitoring can help them get to root causes (or at least to stop spinning their wheels chasing red herrings) was an absolute pleasure to hear. Even if the problem isn’t in your wheelhouse, ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. Good tools can help pinpoint the problem and get you back to happy.

Next up for me is the New York SWUG and I’m looking forward to connecting with people again at that event. Hopefully by that time, my voice will have returned to its pre-event levels. Cisco Live may be over for this year, but that doesn’t mean the lessons learned or the connections made will go away.

As Kevin and I both noted, Cisco Live is unlike any other show we attend. At the same time, this year was different in one notable way—while every other year the visitors to our booth were both steady (the booth really never got empty) and relentless (we’d usually be doing a demo and have one or more people queueing up for a demo after we were done); this year we saw distinctive ebbs and flows. At first I worried that SolarWinds had somehow lost its mojo, but then we saw that the rest of the expo floor was equally barren. By the third day, I was asking around for reasons. It turns out that there was a rumor going around, that if you badged into a session and left early, the RFID sensors would pick it up and you wouldn’t get credit for attendance. That kept butts in chairs when they might otherwise have used the time to talk to your favorite monitoring enthusiasts. We’ll have to wait until next year to see if that rumor continues to hold sway.

Speaking of next year, mark your calendar and start saving your pennies. Cisco Live returns to Las Vegas, running from May 30 – June 4. For those of you with a Jewish holiday calendar handy, that means it starts the day AFTER Shavuot. I’ll make sure I have plenty of leftover cheesecake on hand.

Leon Adato

Those are our thoughts. What was your experience?