Friday, August 19, 2011

VMworld 2011 Las Vegas: a vExpert's take

VMware's annual conference—VMworld—is in its 8th year in the US and is being held in Las Vegas, Nevada. On-site registrations and hands-on labs begin on Sunday, August 28; breakout sessions and opening keynote begins the next day.

This will be my 4th year to attend the conference, and each year I've taken away some incredible experiences, both technical and social. Although I don't have the attendance record of some folks (a friend from Omaha has been to all of them since the first back in 2004), I've learned a thing or two about the conference that are worth sharing for anyone who's never been—or hasn't been back recently.

  • If you haven't booked your travel yet—or can change it—consider arriving on Saturday, Aug 27, and leaving on Friday, Sept 2. Seasoned travelers may not give a whit, but if you are normally a stay-home worker, setting aside the full day on either end of the trip means you'll be less rushed to get back-and-forth to the venue. Other benefits: 
    • You may end up with some savings in both airfare and lodging because of the Saturday night stay. 
    • You won't have to lug around your entire kit the last day of the conference because of check-out times.
    • More and more activities (unofficial and official) are available on Sunday. In previous years, nothing but registration was available on Sunday. As the conference has matured and grown, there are now parties, meetings and other unofficial events on Sunday. And for the first time in memory, the Self-Paced Labs are open at the same time as Registration.
    • No trips back to the office before the Labor Day Weekend!
  • Don't spend a lot of money on a great room. It's more important that where you stay is close to the Sands Expo Center than having luxury. It's pretty simple: unless you're agoraphobic and can't stand crowds, you probably won't be spending much time in your room (Of course, if you're in that group, maybe you should reconsider the trip: you're going to be joined by 20,000 of your closest friends in virtualization). You don't want to go too cheap, however; pick a spot on the Strip, and you should (literally) be safe.
  • Even if you have a room at the Palazzo or Venetian, you'll be doing lots of walking. If you didn't already buy comfy new shoes for the trip, it's probably too late: you'll never break them in before leaving, and the only thing worse than having bad shoes at VMworld is trying to break in a new pair of shoes.
  • While you should always budget for evening meals (breakfast & lunch are provided in your conference fees—assuming you've got the stomach for it—along with light snack foods in the conference venues), if you end up having to buy anything for yourself to eat from Sunday evening through Thursday afternoon, you're either on a very strict diet or you're doing it wrong.
    • First cozy up to your vendors; let them know you're going, and that you want to be informed of any events they have planned for the conference. Your regular salesperson isn't likely to be there—they'll be staying home trying to keep their commissions coming in!—but he/she should be able to get you on any lists for private events.
    • Don't ignore the spam you receive from vendors doing a pre-conference marketing blitz. You might not want to purchase their products at this point, but listening to their pitch may be a small price to pay for a nice meal & drinks.
    • Talk to your friends at other companies and folk you know through the local VMUG (you are a member, aren't you?) and trade invitations around.
  • Some schedule highlights:
    • Sunday: get registered—the lines will be huge, so plan to stand around a bit—and maybe hit the Self-Paced Labs. If you get in after registration, but before 7pm, consider going to the second annual "v0dgeball" tournament (register here). It's being held in the Sportscenter near the airport, so it might be easier to schlep directly over there on arrival rather than heading into the Strip and back after you check in. No word yet on whether there will be shuttle service, but if there is, you'll also save cab fare.
    • Monday night, you'll drink & eat at the opening of the Solutions Exchange (vendor booths). This is the big first-night reception, and the vendors do a pretty good job of "pulling out the stops." This is the night when the best swag is given out, as well as a good opportunity to troll for entrance bracelets/bands for all the various parties being held on Tuesday night. This year, you can also add the CXIparty to your list of events; it's the party that's most congruent with the all-night feeling of Las Vegas.
    • Tuesday night is Vendor Party Night. Nothing is explicitly scheduled for the conference, so most vendors do private parties that night. If you haven't received a half-dozen invitations to overlapping events, talk to your peers to get them. You can also use your time in the expo hall during the day to wheedle invitations. Don't worry about accepting multiple invitations; keep your options open and plan to migrate from party to party until you find one that serves the food you like or otherwise sits best with your temperament.
    • Wednesday night is the big blow-out party for the conference, and this year The Killers will be performing. Dinner will be served. Keep an ear out for word-of-mouth invitations to after-parties. The Self Paced Labs guys have thrown a rave for the last several years—they actually have labs available during the party—and many other vendors do small-group events that you may have an opportunity to get swept up in.
  • Drink lots of water. This can't be emphasized enough. Las Vegas is in the desert, and the venues you'll be in have the A/C set to remove almost every bit of humidity from the air. You'll lose lots of hydration just breathing, and if you consume any amount of alcohol, your body will need additional water to metabolize it. It's a joke that the biggest cause of a hangover is imbibing in the first place, but if you take that as a given, the second biggest cause is dehydration. I've learned to force myself to consume a bottle of water for every serving of alcohol I drink; yes, it makes you go to the head more often, but I've also never missed an 8am meeting the next morning because I was providing sacrifice to the local porcelain gods... Just don't drink a bunch of alcohol and try and offset it later with a bunch of water. Pace yourself and alternate from the very beginning, and your body will thank you later.
  • Do bring a laptop with you. Don't bring it to the expo or breakouts unless you're a blogger with up-to-the-minute deadlines. If you're anything like me, you can get the most work done while working at your desktop, stay productive with an Internet-connected laptop, and love the portability of an iPad or smart phone. Keeping your laptop in your room will make it possible to answer those emergencies that inevitably require your expertise, yet leave you free to skip lugging it around with you. You will get a laptop bag as part of your conference registration, and it's best used for stuffing with give-aways.
  • Other road-warrior tips:
    • Pick up a $100 Apple Airport Express. These little gems transform a single, wired Internet connection in your hotel room into a whole-room wireless network that you can share among your various devices (laptop, iPad, smartphone) using a secure protocol like WPA2. You'll also end up with much better coverage than relying on hotel or conference-hall wireless.
    • Instead of bringing multiple chargers for your devices, bring along a Tripp-Lite TRAVELER3USB. Not only can you share a single power outlet for charging several of your own devices, you may become a hero to your fellow travellers if you share a spare plug or two with them. Having the USB ports are a bonus, and unlike other mobile surge protectors, they have the 2A "oomph" to charge an iPad.
    • An external battery pack can be a lifesaver when you're going to be away from your room all day and your smartphone doesn't go all day on a single charge. While you could always charge this stuff while in your room, these external packs are far more portable than a laptop, can be easily stuffed in a cargo pocket, and allow you to "top off" the battery on your phone while on the move.
    • Pack a hoodie or other light jacket. Yes, it's the summer in the desert, but the conference venues are usually kept pretty cool to handle the heat-output of thousands of attendees; sitting in the breakout rooms can get uncomfortable if you don't have a layer you can add and remove as needed. Unless you're going to a high-profile meeting where you need to look your finest, there's nothing wrong with walking around the venues with a jacket tied around your waist (save the space in your backpack for the goodies!).


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