Tech n' roll

Vendor conferences are fast becoming the new rock concerts.

VMWare CEO Pat Gelsinger welcomes the crowd to its conference in Barcelona last year.

Thousands of excited fans, adorned with similar paraphernalia, buzzing to hear their heroes’ voices. There’s a new breed of rock star in town. He doesn’t carry a guitar, but offers something that’s going to be bigger than a hit album and makes more noise than a heavy metal guitarist.

The new rock stars are actually tech stars – the CEOs of major tech companies, standing on stage at vendor conferences, showing adoring customers, partners and resellers how they’re going to make a fortune with a new generation of technology products.

The world’s convention and entertainment capital Las Vegas is an appropriate setting for many of these events. The Amazon Web Services re:Invent 2016 expo drew a record-breaking 30 000 attendees spread out over multiple venues to cope with the crowds. Unlike other, similar extravaganzas, the keynote by CEO Andy Jassy only took place three days in, with smaller acts like hackathons and partner events building up to the climax. The formula was repeated at the 2017 event.

At Dell EMC World at the same venue in May, more than 13 000 paying delegates arrived to hear what the combined assets of Dell and EMC would deliver. That was up from 8 000 at the equivalent event in Austin in 2016.

EMC subsidiary VMware's VMworld makes makes an even bigger splash, drawing more than 20 000 to its annual VMworld USA in Las Vegas and more than 10 000 to VMworld Europe in Barcelona.

Heavy hitters

The hosts bend over backwards in providing a sense of return on investment. From dazzling closing concerts and parties – Gwen Stefani was the final act for Dell EMC this year – to legendary speakers like Tim Berners-Lee (Dell EMC World 2017) and Richard Branson (Sage Summit 2016; SAP SuccessConnect 2017).

Microsoft, too, proves its pulling power. Its Ignite conference in Atlanta last year drew 23 000 paying delegates. This year, in Orlando, it passed 25 000. The lines to see CEO Satya Nadella in full keynote performance would have brought tears to a rock star's eyes.

Last year, the Microsoft Build conference at the Moscone Centre in San Francisco sold out its 15 000 tickets – going at more than $2 000 each – in one minute flat. This year, the conference was moved to Seattle, because the Moscone was undergoing renovations – largely to meet the demands of rival Oracle, which hosted its annual OpenWorld conference in October this year.

Headline acts

The investment was not misplaced: Oracle OpenWorld 2017 drew a massive 60 000 people. It ended with a concert by Grammy winners The Chainsmokers. But, in reality, the headline acts were Oracle founder Larry Ellison and CEO Mark Hurd.

“To be very clear, we can't really handle much more in terms of size,” Hurd told a media briefing. He said he wasn’t interested in getting the number to 70 000, 'if we can avoid it'.

That may be difficult. Presenters at the 2 200 sessions totalled around 3 000 – this figure alone would be a respectable turnout at many other conferences.

“The financial impact to the city has been about $3 billion over the last several years,” said Hurd. "So, obviously, it's a big generator of income, which has a big impact on the city.”

The big technology vendors and their CEOs are in the poundseats right now because their products, more than ever before, are about enabling business. Find the right sessions, the right use cases, and the right models, and the impact on business efficiency, performance and competitiveness can turn partners and customers, too, into business rock stars. 

sponsored by
sponsored by