5 global tech conferences that shouldn’t get cut

Next month would have marked the one time in the year thousands of technology professionals make the trek to Salt Lake City to figure out whether Novell has the wherewithal to be the world’s most successful blend of open source and proprietary technology. Except that this year, for once, the global economy as a whole is actually doing worse than sales of Open Enterprise Server. There won’t be a BrainShare 2009, and who knows about next year. We’re bracing for what gets cut next.
I found BrainShare an extremely worthy event the last time I went there, but the industry, suffice it to say, will survive its loss. Not too many people are crying tears for NetApp’s planned (and now cancelled) customer conference. Bizarrely, when I spoke to Nortel’s user group recently, they said they intend to forge ahead with their own annual gathering. It’s hard to tell what’s going to survive from a vendor education standpoint. It is not, however, difficult to pin down the events we can’t afford to lose.

1. Microsoft PDC: Whether or not Redmond holds WinHEC, TechEd or many of its other smaller events, the Professional Developers Conference is a key assembly of ISV talent that helps shape the adoption patterns of Windows and a broad range of other Microsoft platform technologies. You know all those gadgets you saw come out of CES last month? They won’t mean much without some great applications to run on them.

2. Intel IDF: Although the chipmaker holds a number of these sessions around the world over the course of the year, I’ve seen really important discussions and insights come out of the one held each fall in San Francisco. With the slow move from quad core to eight cores and beyond, Intel’s processor technology will be among the make-or-break factors around IT manager willingness to invest in hardware upgrades. This is where future data centre performance is determined.

3. SAPPHIRE: SAP needs to show its new leadership team can pick up where Henning Keggermann (and perhaps more importantly, Shai Agassi) left off and turn product innovations like Duet (with Microsoft) and its NetWeaver middleware into indispensible assets for enterprise IT managers. This could be the place where someone figures out how to make ERP a lot easier, which is the kind of nagging problem that deserves more attention during a recession.

4. Oracle OpenWorld: You can either get angry with Larry Ellison’s quest to dominate the world of enterprise business applications, or you can accept the fact that this conference represents the widest constituency of users, including former J.D. Edwards, PeopleSoft, Siebel and BEA clients. It’s also tends to boast the most complete roster of other major tech firms including Intel, Dell, HP and Sun, which means you hear a lot more than simply the experts from Redwood Shores.

5. RSA Security: We need at least one major show around information protection, and while some might suggest Black Hat is more important, I think the EMC subsidiary has more appeal for mainstream business decision makers.

Anybody disagree with these choices? I know there have to be JavaOne loyalists, or perhaps some LinuxWorld die-hards. At the moment there is no indication any of these conference is getting the axe, but the point here is to start prioritizing. Every moment can be a learning opportunity, but like the vendors, IT managers are probably choosing their moments much more carefully.

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