Drinking From the Tradeshow “Fire Hose”

I recently returned from the 2006 Gartner IT Security Summit and I’ll soon be heading to Cisco Networkers. I actually enjoy working tradeshows because its allows me to hear what’s on people’s minds, and it allows me to meet as many customers and prospects as I would otherwise have to travel for a month and a half straight to meet. During the show, I usually take some time to walk the floor to see what other technologies and companies are there and what messages are being sent.

As I walked through Gartner, I started thinking about the customer perspective. I’m amazed by how many different organizations claim to do the same thing, effectively. I noticed this in other shows, and Gartner was no different. Take a security issue like “internal misuse,” for example. There are at least 25 organizations that have solving internal misuse as one of their value propositions. I’m not saying that this is not the case; I’m sure that each product detects some type of internal misuse and does so in a unique manner. However, it certainly presents a challenge to the customer who wants to solve his internal misuse problem. Should they talk to everybody and if not, which ones specifically? I think that even the most seasoned security experts will walk away in a daze after hearing 25 organization and product pitches. Drinking from a fire hose is probably not the best way to go when all you want is a glass of water.

That said, trade shows are probably the best place to start when you have a project that you want to address, or you are trying to come up with ideas on what to do next. In one afternoon, you can talk to all the vendors that you would like in a given technology, learn what they do, ask as many questions as you want, and even get quick product demonstrations. Vendors usually staff the booth with informed people, so you can get great data quickly. This is much more efficient compared to having 10 vendors come to your office over 10 different days for two-hour meetings.

To truly benefit from attending the show without the information overload of the fire hose, do your homework beforehand. While many might claim to do the same thing, there are generally only three or four market leaders and maybe two or three new emerging leapfrog technologies. If you scan the trade magazines and google for technology review, you should be able to figure out who these are. The technology leaders are leading for a reason, so they are definitely worth speaking with. The emerging companies may have something to offer that nobody else does. Also, ask around once you get to the show. Many organizations have policies that prevent them from publishing what solutions they use, but the guy sitting next to you in the “Future of Network Security” session is probably willing to share who he’s bought or is considering buying and why. You can even ask vendors: “Who do you see as your top competitors in this space?” The names that come up repeatedly are probably worth looking at. The name that other vendors omit but that you know is a market leader is definitely worth looking at.

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