The network has long been king at Interop, the tech conference that will be celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2011. But networking "has fallen behind" over the past couple of years as a new emphasis on cloud computing and virtualization has taken hold, says Interop general manager Lenny Heymann. But now it's time to put the focus back on the network.
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"In the last couple years it does seem a lot of other areas have surged ahead and networking has fallen behind," Heymann says. Networks have become more stable over the years, and innovation head in different directions such as cloud computing and virtualization, Heymann said. But networks, far from becoming irrelevant, have to be rock-solid to take advantage of new technologies.
"We need to look at how networks respond to some of these changes that have really swept through the market," Heymann says. "There were changes in the data center around cloud computing and virtualization that have put pressure on networks and there are some changes that need to be made."
Because of virtualization technologies like live migration, virtual machines can move around the data center at warp speed, but the ability to manage the network and servers "is lagging the speed at which the VMs can be moved from one machine to another," Heymann says. "Management of network has to be speedier, more efficient and automated to keep up."
And while cloud computing lets IT shops offload applications and processing power to vendor-hosted networks, customers must integrate their own networks with those hosted by the cloud vendors and make sure they can handle the new traffic originating from outside their own networks. Vendors like F5 and Riverbed have been making progress in ensuring that performance doesn't suffer when customers connect to the cloud, Heymann says.
"When you could control it from end to end you could control performance better," he says. "Different issues get involved when you're pulling data out of public cloud data centers."
Interop was started 25 years ago to spur vendors to demonstrate that their products could work together. "Everything's plugged together today, but that wasn't the case 25 years ago," Heymann says.
Interop Las Vegas will be held May 8-12 at the Mandalay Bay conference center. The conference will begin with two days of workshops on cloud computing and virtualization, and a two-day CIO Bootcamp.
Then on Tuesday morning, Google's Vint Cerf, a tech luminary who helped create the Internet, will take the keynote stage and be interviewed by Interop founder Dan Lynch. Cerf is not only a builder and thought leader for the tech industry, but he's also inside one of the planet's biggest users of technology at Google, Heymann notes. "Vint is in a really unique position."
Cerf has been outspoken on the shift to IPv6, which will be one of many pressing tech topics to be tackled at Interop. One session will help attendees make the transition to IPv6, and the InteropNet, the temporary network that powers Interop, is emphasizing IPv6 technologies where possible.
"It's still a work in progress moving to IPv6," Heymann says. "A decade in progress and it will take another decade as well."
Interop is always a place for vendors to show off their new products, but tech industry spending has stagnated over the past few years, leading Heymann and other speakers to take a cautious tone at the conference. Heymann notes that Interop offers plenty of free programs, and says it's worth coming to Vegas for the conference even for those people who'd rather not pay the conference price. Tickets range from free (for the expo, keynotes, InteropNet tours and free sessions sponsored by vendors) to more than $3,000 for a full-price ticket.
Heymann says Interop organizers recognize the financial constraints faced by many in IT these days, and wants to reach anyone who can at least afford to make the trip to Vegas. Heymann expects about 13,000 attendees, about the same as last year.
But while many attendees will opt for the free portion of the show, the IT industry is possibly making a financial comeback. Gartner says iPads and other tablets will help drive worldwide IT spending up 5.6% in 2011, to $3.6 trillion.
The proliferation of mobile devices and social technologies, and how they change the way employees do work, will be on the agenda at Interop, as will concerns about the new security risks raised by these technologies. Interop will offer a mobile application for the first time, designed for the iPhone.
There will be about 350 exhibitors, from big names like Cisco and Microsoft to smaller vendors you may never have heard of. Although startups will always be there to help drive the industry forward, Heymann says the pendulum of innovation seems to have swung back toward the incumbents. One example is Cisco's Unified Computing System, which was developed organically within Cisco rather than simply acquired from a smaller vendor," Heymann says.
"I would guess that you'd have to acknowledge that the bigger companies have to do more innovation these days because the pipeline isn't there in terms of the numbers of startups," Heymann says. "The pendulum has moved, and incumbents are doing more of the innovation within their own walls."
Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.