If Obi Wan Ken Obi were around he would feel a great disturbance in the force as a large portion of the virtualization talent in the world converges on San Francisco next week for VMworld 2010. This promises to be one of the biggest and best years yet with an estimated 15,000 people attending, lots of great announcements, 9 tracks with 300+ sessions and 20 super sessions. If that ain’t enough there are hundreds of vendors showing off their wares, dozens of great labs to attend and enough parties to keep you entertained from dusk to dawn. This is my 3rd VMworld and I wanted to offer some advice, observations and information that you might find helpful:
- The sessions, so many to choose from, so little time, you’ll be lucky if you can attend more than a dozen of them. They’re just so much other stuff to do there its hard to find time to go to sessions. I recommend you pick a few that you really want to see and don’t sweat it if you miss some, remember they’re all recorded and you have plenty of time to see them after VMworld. I usually choose based on certain people that I want to hear speak and meet after the session. After all you can always hear the session later but you can’t meet the speaker after VMworld is over. This year their is no mandatory registration for sessions, anyone can show up and its first come first serve until the room is filled.
- The labs, always pretty hectic to get into them but this year they made them bigger and better. Gone are the instructor-led labs and they are are now all self-paced. They are also ran from servers in a big cloud somewhere instead of being on-site which should be better because they have much more time to setup and test everything before the event instead of trying to rapidly put it all together at Moscone.
- The parties, there are no shortage of them and trying to pick and choose which ones you want to attend can be even more challenging than picking sessions to see. There is a pretty comprehensive list of them here. Sunday is the big warm-up party at the Thirsty Bear, you have to register to get in (its already closed) but if you try going later (after 8:00pm) they may have some room for anyone to go in. Monday is the opening Welcome Reception in the Solutions Exchange, food, beer & vendors, a good way to start the evening. Afterwards we are having the official VMworld tweetup from 9:00pm – 11:00pm, space is limited so RSVP if you want to attend, this should be a real fun event. Finally on Monday evening if you are into stogies, a group of us are going to smoke them after 11:00pm at a local cigar bar, RSVP here. You can’t smoke anywhere in San Fran so if you like cigars come along. Tuesday seems to be the day every vendor throws a party, so pick the ones you want to go to and hop between them. Personally I’m going to try and make it to 3-4 of them including the Veeam party which is always great. Contact your vendors if you don’t have invites and they should be able to get you one. Wednesday is the big official VMworld party with INXS playing this year, don’t look all over the place outside in the Yerba Buena gardens as the band doesn’t play there, they play indoors in the same area as the keynotes are held.
- The networking, that’s what VMworld is all about, don’t be a hermit and don’t be afraid to talk to people. People like Mike Laverick, Jason Boche, Scott Lowe and Duncan Epping aren’t surrounded by security guards and are down to earth guys who will talk to anyone. So go say high, introduce yourself and have a conversation, you’ll be very glad you did so afterwards. Don’t know where to find people? Well parties are a good place to start, everyone seems to gravitate there. Do yourself a favor and get on twitter if you’re not already and you’ll know in real time whats going on. You can see a full list of people tweeting and blogging here and see real time feeds of tweets here, the official VMworld hashtag is #vmworld.
- Plan your trip appropriately, you’re going to be on your feet a lot at VMworld, you better have comfortable shoes or you’re going to have real sore feet. Pack light if you can, you might want to being an extra bag, there are lots of prize giveaways and free swag all over the place so I can almost guarantee you’re going to go home with more than you came with. If you’re going to walk around with a back pack don’t stuff it too much, its going to get awfully heavy after wearing it a few hours. I travel light and don’t want a full laptop to lug around, I bring a netbook, iPad and iPhone and choose the one I want to carry for what I need to do at the time. Don’t forget power, especially for your iPhone, I carry 3 battery packs so I can charge it as needed without an outlet. Wi-fi coverage at Moscone is so-so and 3G in San Fran is always bad and will probably be even worse at VMworld due to an additional 5,000 or so iPhones/iPads all fighting for service.
- Set your priorities and expectations ahead of time, VMworld has plenty to offer and you’ll get as much out of it as you put into it. Sessions are at the bottom of the priority list for me, things like networking and going through the Solutions Exchange are at the top. If you make a schedule it will be challenging to keep it as there are plenty of distractions at VMworld. Be realistic and don’t try and cram your schedule so full that you stress yourself out and are rushing to get to everything. Relax, enjoy yourself and have fun.
- VMware makes a point to show off their talent at VMworld, this means those geeky developers that are normally locked up all day making the next version of vSphere are there and usually available to talk to. What better person to ask your HA question than someone who actually developed the feature. VMware has lots of other smart people there so be sure and check out the VMware booths in the Solutions Exchange to meet them. Also new this year are knowledge experts that you can schedule one-on-one facetime with. It’s not just VMware that has their smartest and brightest at the show though, most of the vendors do also so go by your favorite vendors and talk them up and get your questions answered.
- The Solutions Exchange is like a Super Walmart, everything you can possibly need for VMware products all under one roof, take your time, stroll around and I guarantee you’ll see many cool products that you probably never knew existed. VMware has an incredibly rich ecosystem of vendors that can help solve your pain points and enhance your environment. Do make a point of spending plenty of time there, besides learning a lot you’ll leave with pockets stuffed with vendor swag.
- If this is your first time at VMworld or San Fran it can be a bit intimidating, especially when it comes to finding your way around. If you get there on Sunday try and pick up your badge then rather than fight the crowds on Monday. Walking around and trying to get your bearings can help, be sure and use the maps of the Moscone that are published on VMworld.com and in the docs you are given when you check in to see where everything is. If you need information don’t hesitate to ask someone, or even better trying tweeting it and you might get a quick answer. The more social you can be at VMworld especially if its your first time will really help you out as us virtualization folks are a friendly lot that don’t bite and are glad to help out a vComrade.
- See San Francisco if you can, there is lots to see in the city, know how to get around ahead of time, BART and the public transportation are great for this. Go see the sea lions at Pier 39 (watch out for the Bush Man), take a boat trip to Alcatraz, see the Muir Woods, Golden Gate or go climb Coit Tower. I have a big list of things to do in San Francisco here.
- Know where to go after the action is over, once VMworld closes each day there are plenty of parties, after the parties are over many gather at popular spots. One such spot is the lobby bar of the Marriott Marquis hotel which is 2 blocks from the Moscone. I had many great late night conversations with others there each night after all the parties ended.
VMworld is four short days and will fly by before you know it, so be sure and make the most of it and soak up the incredible amount of knowledge that will be available both formally through labs and sessions and informally through talking to others. Enjoy the show and I hope to meet many of you there.