Live from #VFD4

It’s a little after 5am here in the capital of the great state of Texas and finally, after a furious #VFD4 day one, I’ve a chance to catch up and blog about my second Tech Field Day experience.

I’ll get around to posting about the vendors & the products I’m learning about, but first I’d like to impress upon the reader briefly how crazy this Tech Field Day thing is. It’s something of a unique beast, difficult to explain to outsiders and families, two parts professional conference, one part trade show, all parts fun.

Gestalt IT & Organizers

VFD-Logo-400x398Stephen Foskett is a storage guy who for many years penned an influential storage column in one of those old snail mail periodicals we called magazines. Foskett dresses well (seriously, I half expect him to show up with an ascot most days), works out of Ohio but hails from Connecticut, likes fine watches, and is sort of the head chef in charge of defining how this crazy, multi-layered, complicated enchilada called Tech Field Day is going to taste. The man has his detractors I understand, but all men and women with vision & drive do. He’s been doing this Tech Field Day thing for about 5 years, is confident it’ll be around for another five, and is a good man to know in an industry (IT) that’s changing & shifting.

Tom Hollingsworth is a bonafide Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE, not sure how many digits or if he tattooed them anywhere), calls Oklahoma home, and like all good networking guys, routes, switches and load-balances snark in addition to frames & packets. He’s genuine, quick-thinking, funny and brutally honest with vendors & delegates alike. He tells good stories and is deeply engaged on the state of the art (cf IPv6 debate at #VFD3).

Claire Chaplais isn’t with us at #VFD4, but her talent for bringing order to chaos is in evidence everywhere. I don’t know that much about her or her background, but I know that in addition to being the organizational brains of the operation, Claire brings balance to the troika.

That’s it. That’s the Gestalt IT organization: a former storage columnist who presents well, an OK CCIE, and Claire. Two technical guys and one sharp organizational doer working across geographies and delivering a product, Tech Field Day, that brings me to Austin today.

The Vendors & the Delegates

This then is kernel of Tech Field Day, it’s raison d’etre, its pitch or value prop if you will forgive my use of that abused term. Gestalt connects technology vendors -established, startups, mid-life etc- to influential IT practitioners who blog about technology. The vendors fund this thing and pay for our accommodations, travel, and all food, schwag, spirits & the venue. They bring their show to us, or we go to them in their workplace over the space of 72 hours.

10-Office-Space-quotesDelegates, to invoke the great Tom Symkowski of Office space, interface with the goddamned Vendors so that you can have an informed perspective on their product, its position among competing products, and its value. Sometimes these presentations are amazing & informative, full of #WhiteboardingGlory, and sometimes they suck….it’s a coin flip.

Delegates receive no compensation for this trip, and some of us, including me this time around, are losing income to serve as Delegates. We’re encouraged to write our views, but not forced, and no one approves or reviews content before I hit the big blue publish button in WordPress.

All this is choreographed, packaged, and produced into a frenetic 72 hour span, and Gestalt makes it work. Nearly 20 flights converged on AUS from all points of the globe in the space of just a few hours Tuesday, yesterday we heard from startups like Platform9, saw #VFD3 friend & alum Eric Wright who now works for VMTurbo, will hear from Solarwinds, Commvault and StorMagic today before closing tings up tomorrow with Scale and  Dell, as establishment a player there is.

Knowing your place

I relish Tech Field Day. It’s fun for me as I know my skillset and the environments I excel in. I practice IT in small to medium enterprises, organizations with 500-2000 employees, wide geographic footprints, usually private but sometimes public, places where a Converged IT Guy can touch a lot of things and have an outsized impact. I love fast-paced IT Shops, am not a fan of ITIL, and I’m DevOps-curious. My solutions are probably not a good fit for a 10,000 seat enterprise, and may be too complicated for really small IT shops.

There are Delegates here who are like me, but many are not. Some are rockstars who author respected technical books, and the string of certs behind their names is truly impressive. I’m more of a Generalist whose passions were lit up by virtualization, cloud, and rationalizing the stack in my space.

In the context of Virtualization Field Day, I’m again the only Hyper-V & System Center guy in a sea of sharp VMware experts. When the VMware Delegates say SRM, I think Failover Clustering & Azure Site Recovery. They vMotion, I Live Migrate, they moan about vSphere web client and I bitch about SCOM.

And we all complain about storage.

The Vendors build their products for VMware first and foremost and that is a reflection of the marketplace reality.  Yet as a Hyper-V & System Center guy, I still get a lot out of these presentations, understanding how the products are positioned and how colleagues solve some of the same problems I face.

And I’m just arrogant & confident enough that I don’t mind nagging and pushing vendors to support Hyper-V/System Center even as they’re excited to tell me about VMware solutions.

Maybe it’s hubris but I like to think I’m representing a bunch of IT guys and gals in the real world who are building and supporting durable infrastructure systems in smaller environments like the ones I come from and usually on Microsoft technologies. Hopefully they get something out of the blogs I’ll be posting over the next few days.

One thought on “Live from #VFD4

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