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August 22, 2014

Top Tips for First Time #VMWorld Attendees

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For the last decade, virtualization users have rallied around VMworld as the defacto virtualization event of the year.  And once or twice a year (if you're lucky), virtualization junkies (like me) take the pilgrimage to VMworld US or VMworld Europe in order to surround ourselves in a warm cocoon of virtualization and cloud goodness.  And that time of year is once again quickly approaching. 

But believe it or not, as we plan our trek to San Francisco to join 23,000 of our closest friends, some of us will be going for the very first time!  YES, there are VMworld newbies still in the world, and we welcome them with open arms.  The more the merrier (and I can say that now that I have a hotel room booked)... we welcome our brethren, and I'd like to impart a few small nuggets of information with each of you coming from years of experience attending this particular show.  And hopefully, some of these tips will help out those of you who are new to the event.

San Francisco Shuttle Bus.  To start you out, if you're traveling to San Francisco by plane, think about using a shuttle bus rather than taking a cab.  If you have the time to spare, you'll probably save about $60 on a round trip by doing so.  Some hotels may offer a free shuttle pickup or drop off -- call your hotel ahead of time and find out.  Chances are, they don't.  So the next best option for your wallet is a shuttle.  I believe a shuttle will run you somewhere in the neighborhood of about $18.  You'll have to share the shuttle with around 4-6 other people (and they typically wait around 30 minutes or so to fill up a shuttle van), which is why you'll save money over a cab ride.  If you're pressed for time to head back to the airport from the hotel, make sure to catch a cab.  It's cheaper than missing your flight.  When you leave the main airport, look for the non-hotel branded shuttles.  There will be a shuttle representative at each terminal, so just let them know you need a ride, and you don't have a reservation.  

Make time for the Solutions Exchange.  I can't stress this one enough.  I realize the first thing most people think of when they register for a show like this is that they need to fill up their schedule with breakout sessions.  And while those are absolutely wonderful, I want to make sure folks understand that you can learn a lot by walking the Solutions Exchange floor. 

This year, there are more than 275 sponsors and exhibitors, each of whom paid a LOT of money to have a booth at the show.  And trust me, they really want to meet you.  This is your chance to find out about a number of different software products that you may not have even heard of yet.  These sponsors will usually have some of their top techies at the booth ready to explain the ins and outs of their technologies.  Don't just let them scan your badge and move on -- ask them for a demo and see the product in action.  In the end, this is usually a lot more rewarding than listening to a Power Point pitch by sales and marketing... sorry to say.  So take advantage of these one-on-one interactions. 

Also, make sure you grab a datasheet or some other piece of collateral to remind yourself who it was you spoke with and which products you found interesting.  Take notes about the technologies you found.  Why was the company interesting?  What problem did they solve? How much was the solution?  Did you get a demo?  Did you make a contact at the company?  That way, after visiting with so many booths, you can actually remember which companies were worth the follow-up.

Don't forget: This is also the place to get swag!  And at VMworld, you'll find just about everything.  And yes, there will be a sea of T-Shirts, so make sure to stock up on new attire for the office.  ;) 

Oh yeah, one other quick point here.  Make sure to visit the Innovator's Pavilion.  This is where you'll find new or hidden gems, those folks who may have just come out of stealth mode... they won't have the glitz and glamour of a 10x20 or larger booth, but don't pass them up.

Bring Business Cards - Yes, I completely understood that it's 2014 and you want to be hip and only have a QR Code.  But guess what?  There are vendors there that have fish bowls for prizes, and they want a business card, not your QR Code.  And yes, some old school people like me still like to exchange business cards.  So when you're networking (see below), someone may ask you for a card.  Have one at the ready.  You never know who you're going to meet.

Network, network, network. Remember, these are your people!  These are fellow virtualization users with similar experiences and interests as you.  Trade war stories with one another.  Find out best practices you may not know about yet.  Meet VMware employees (those folks building the technology), VMware vExperts, bloggers, reporters, analysts, book authors, VMUG members, VMTN community users, etc.  Ask them the tough questions!  Or just say hello and get LinkedIn with people.  Sometimes, you only know these people by their online names... meet them up close and personal, and get to know the person behind the name.  A great place to do that is at the Solutions Exchange or the Hang Out area.

Lunch is another great time to try and meet new people. Don't sit at the empty table (come out of your shell); find a table with people already seated and ask to join.  Strike up a conversation!  These are your virtualization brethren.  Don't be afraid.  Be the first person to speak up and say hello!  Besides, the free lunch may not be the greatest in the world (based on past experiences), so good conversation may just be the additive needed to make lunch go down smoother.

Breakout sessions.  Choose wisely and carefully.  Make a plan and stick to it.  Do your research before signing up!  Research the topic and the speakers.  Are they the industry experts?  Are they the developers and implementers?  Are they the company CTO or technology advocate?  Or are they the sales or marketing person?  I don't want to be a Negative Nancy, but some of these sessions will end up disappointing you.  What sounds like a technical deep dive, may end up being a high level marketing Power Point pitch.  Sorry!  #JustSayin. 

The online scheduler should keep you from booking multiple sessions at the same time, so it's helpful in that regard.  Use it to build your schedule, and make sure to print it out and have a hard copy handy.  Or even better, make sure to update your calendar on your phone with the day, time, room number, title and speaker.  Or download the VMworld mobile app!  They've made some great improvements this year, and it should make your event life much easier. 

Choose wisely, and do your best to show up.  Remember, if you don't show, someone else might have been able to schedule it.

Remember, breakout sessions are typically recorded.  With a full conference pass, you get access to the break out session recordings.  So don't feel like you have to book every session you see.  Relax!  And you can watch it later when you return home. 

Be careful about scheduling back-to-back sessions.  Remember, this show is spread out across the Moscone Center, and chances are slim that back to back sessions will be next door to one another.  Keep track of where each session is when scheduling.  If you have to walk from one location to the next, you might miss the next session.  And these things start on time, and they wait for no one!  Well, unless the speaker is late.  Then it waits for them.

Hands on lab session.  The Hands-on Labs component of VMworld is always a fan favorite.  And this year, the Hands-on Labs team has added an additional expert-led Workshop room to accommodate the high demand exhibited last year. 

This year, VMworld is going to offer 47 new self-paced labs with hundreds of hours of new and exciting content.  In addition to updated versions of the VSAN, Horizon, and NSX labs, they will be featuring hands-on access to currently unannounced and unreleased technologies, including some labs that will be available exclusively at VMworld.  They are also going to feature even more labs created by partners, showcasing solutions involving tight integration between VMware and partner technologies.

They've also added NEW focus areas to the Hands-on Labs experience.  The focus areas will allow for groups of like-minded attendees to easily share best practices while taking a deeper dive into a Self Paced lab.  No sign up is needed for these focus areas, but they are first come, first served.

And if you get stuck or have questions, VMware product experts will be on hand to answer any questions you may have around the products used in a lab, focus area or expert-led Workshop.

Make sure to check these out, and get them on your schedule.

Listen to the Keynotes.  The Keynotes usually offer some "key" information.  Want to hear about the future direction of VMware?  Want to hear about upcoming technologies straight from the horse's mouth?  This is your chance to see and hear from VMware executives. 

The Keynote is usually a packed house.  So if you want to sit anywhere near the front, get there early.  However, you have options.  If you don't get there early enough, there are large screens strategically placed throughout the room.  So if you're late, pick a seat where you have a good visual of one of those screens instead of a big column or the back of a camera man. 

If you're hung over (you know who you are), stay in your hotel room and watch the live streaming of the Keynote.  Hey, it happens.  We understand.  No judgement here.  :)

Don't count on the Wi-Fi connection. Remember, this is VMworld -- a show filled with 23,000 technologically savvy people, like yourself.  And guess what?  Like you, they are all going to be traveling with multiple devices, all sucking away at the available Wi-Fi signal.  So don't count on being able to connect to the Wi-Fi at all times during the show.  And even if you do, expect it to be spotty and slower than anticipated.  Hey, it's a fact of life.  Also, don't expect the hotel to be much better.  Some hotels will charge you a daily rate, but that won't stop everyone from connecting.  So be prepared to be unimpressed with hotel speeds too.

If you can get away with it -- travel light.  Because of poor Wi-Fi connectivity, you might consider leaving the laptop in your hotel room and travel light.  And yes, even in 2014, you might think about going old school with a pen and pad to take notes.  Blasphemy, I realize! 

If you need quick access online, you might be able to make use of one of the many PCs or thin client workstations provided by one of the show sponsors scattered around the show.

Conference attire.  VMworld says it is casual to business dress.  And it really is up to you.  The fashion police won't be walking around handing out citations.  But don't take that as an invitation to wear just anything. 

I would say, like most things, the attire really depends on what you're doing at the conference.  Dress for what you are doing at the show, but also be comfortable.  You're going to be there all week, and your main focus should be on learning and networking.  However, I cannot stress this enough... make sure you wear comfortable shoes!  This show is BIG.  And when I say that, I mean it's spread out across multiple locations at the Moscone.  And that doesn't include things that are off-site, at other hotels or venues.  Translation: you will be walking around, a lot, make no mistake.  Trust me on this, and your feet will thank you later.

Oh yeah, I don't know where you're traveling from, but San Francisco can be 80 degrees at one point, and then drop down to a chilly 40 degrees by night fall.  Plan on going out at night?  Think about bringing a jacket of some sort. 

Contact your vendors and partners.  Let them know you are going to be at VMworld.  Vendors and partners like to make face-to-face contact when and where possible.  So help forge a stronger relationship, and meet up with them to find out the latest.  And let them know what's going on with your company as well.  And remember, vendors also throw parties, so make sure you get added to the guest list!

Arrive Sunday.  If you can get there on Sunday, do it.  Walk around and get the lay of the land.  That way, come Monday, you know where everything is and you aren't scrambling to figure it all out.  It's also a lot easier to register and get your badge on a Sunday when the crowd is a little less, well, like cattle being herded.  It's also a good time to meet up with friends, colleagues, vendors, partners, etc. before the chaos show starts.

Enjoy the parties! Finally... have fun! 

To kick things off, make sure to attend the VMworld Welcome Reception.  I usually make this one of my key networking opportunities during the show.  It's also an easy way to visit with exhibitors, while also enjoying food and drink. 

VMworld also knows how to throw a good party!  They offer up quite an assortment of food and drinks, and follow that up with a private concert.  In the past, we've seen Foreigner, INXS, The Killers, Train and Imagine Dragons.  This time, VMworld is bringing out the Black Keys for your listening pleasure.

And don't forget... make sure to bring your badge if you want to get into the party!  You'll need it.  And yes, it has to be a full conference badge (sorry, expo passes won't cut it) or perhaps a guest pass for the party itself. 

But there's even more fun to be had.  If you're looking for something to do outside of the conference itself, there are plenty of options to choose from.  Ask around while networking.  Or, even better... check out the Community Gatherings page.  Now that's a list of events!



Hopefully these quick tips help.  This is a fantastic show, with so much to do and learn.  And it's been part of my "must see" list for the last 11 years.

Do you have any tips to share?  We were all newbies at one time or another... so help spread your knowledge so others can get the best experience possible out of this year's event.


Last modified on August 22, 2014
David Marshall

David Marshall has been involved in the technology industry for over 19 years, and he's been working with virtualization software since 1999. He was able to become an industry expert in virtualization by becoming a pioneer in that field - one of the few people in the industry allowed to work with Alpha stage server virtualization software from industry leaders: VMware (ESX Server), Connectix and Microsoft (Virtual Server).

Through the years, he has invented, marketed and helped launch a number of successful virtualization software companies and products. David holds a BS degree in Finance, an Information Technology Certification, and a number of vendor certifications from Microsoft, CompTia and others. He's also co-authored two published books: "VMware ESX Essentials in the Virtual Data Center" and "Advanced Server Virtualization: VMware and Microsoft Platforms in the Virtual Data Center" and acted as technical editor for two popular Virtualization "For Dummies" books. With his remaining spare time, David founded and operates one of the oldest independent virtualization news blogs, VMblog.com. And co-founded CloudCow.com, a publication dedicated to Cloud Computing. Starting in 2009 and continuing all the way to 2016, David has been honored with the vExpert distinction by VMware for his virtualization evangelism.

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