I just got back from #CiscoLive last week. Man, what an event! 27,000 people poured into Moscone center in San Francisco, and Cisco invited 20 of us to attend as VIP social media ambassadors hand picked by Bryan Kramer of PureMatter. I was happy to see many of my Twitter friends there too, including Joel Comm Steve Farnsworth, Adam Helweh, Mitra Sorrells, Serena Shnayer Carlson, Neal Schaffer, Courtney Smith Kramer, Robin Fray Carey, Ted Rubin, Todd Wilms, Brian Moran, Chris Heuer and Shel Israel.
All about the network
I go to a lot of events, and whether I’m speaking or attending the one complaint I hear every time is about network overload or failure. As one would expect Cisco came prepared. In fact they over-prepared, including having network access points in nearby hotels like the Mariott where people were holding one-on-one meetings. When was the last time you went to a tech conference and had the network not only stay up but be able to transfer large packets if you wanted to? At this event that was never a problem! In fact, in a private lunch with the Cisco team we learned they had prepared for over 17,000 people to be using three devices simultaneously and not bring down the network. Pretty freaking awesome!
The graphic below shows a heat-map of where people were using their devices on the network and all of this information was constantly available on interactive screens in the main hall of Moscone South. Other statistics were available too including traffic data. With a house full of network admins what’s going to make them happier than not only seeing the routers and servers but the data transfer rates? Geek candy.
This level of transparency at a conference is rather unheard of but it does make sense in Cisco’s case because after all this is their area of expertise. At lunch with the event organizers they told us about the level of transparency they maintain at all times. Sure there may be issues, but Cisco’s plan is to own up and deal with it live. The status of the network was posted on huge screens publicly available for all to see 24/7.
It was quite an experience to be an ambassador of an event like this. In addition to being able to view everything at the conference from the table presentations and workshops to the keynotes we also had access to the show management and behind the scenes info. I have to give the event operations manager Heather Henderson Thomas kudos for what she and her team accomplished.
Getting an event like this off the ground is no small feat, even after 25 years! We learned from the management that this event process takes 15 months, so even on day one of the conference their team has been working on next year for 3 months already
From my event planning experience the event itself was run brilliantly. There was time to get from session to session, and everywhere you looked where docents and greeters who were happy to tell you where to find things, directed people to the main sessions or to lunch and basically were there just to keep everybody happy, engaged and having fun. Even as people lined up for the keynote with John Chambers, dancers circulated to keep people entertained. And talk about a party! The weather in San Francisco was picture perfect, allowing the crowd to grab a box lunch and sit out in Yerba Buena park and enjoy the music provided. In the evening there was more food and an open wine and beer bar on the exhibit floor, providing plenty of opportunities for networking, seeing product demos and relaxing. The grand finale of the entertainment was a huge party at ATT Park with headliners Lenny Kravitz and Imagine Dragons. All of this was co-ordinated by Zak Brazen, Cisco’s designated “Director of Vibe“.
It’s not all fun and games though
Cisco digs deep into data from a number of sources in order to be able to create a program of workshops, presentations and hands on hacker sessions that individual attendees will be satisfied with. I heard there are more than 50 buyer personas that Cisco uses to customize the event down to the individual level so they can produce content that is really relevant, rather than a broad stroke of the brush. One of the results of that was the new DevNet program, a collection of sessions and activities designed specifically for developers to hone their skills developing Cisco-enabled applications. How exceptional in a time when conference planners tend to generalize rather than be this specific down to a granular level.
Cisco has a well developed speaker program. Through the education programs they gain knowledge about what people need, issues that need to be resolved and leverage the knowledge of engineers and Cisco fellows to learn more and make their products better. They nurture speakers who have hands-on experience and attendees rate their favorites. The distinguished speaker program is established to recognize those who land in the top 10% of attendee scores.
The Show Floor
I really enjoyed the World of Solutions show floor, learning about some aspects of the Cisco and Cisco partner organizations that I didn’t know much about, and where Cisco was showing off their vision for the future of the Internet of Everything.
Cisco predicts that soon everything we buy will have some form of sensor or chip in it. Chips are getting smaller and data much easier to collect. At first this seems very big brother and scary. However, once you start seeing what they can do with this information it really does blow your mind.
One of the exhibits that I spent time in was the demonstration of Cisco in the classroom. You may have seen the Cisco telepresence, which is really quite an amazing experience, but now that much larger model has been brought down to scale to be accessible and affordable in a classroom situation. Now the classroom can be carried around the world and broadcasted to a much larger audience. This gives such scope and really helps to make our world seems smaller somehow.
I could go on for quite a while about the conference, but don’t feel left out, you can view many of the presentations online. Check out the on-demand library and the video series to catch up on what’s new.
The video below was recorded live in the studios on the floor at CiscoLive. I had a great time at #CLUS!