ISC West 2011: The Year of the Copycat

I’m a big fan of the ISC West trade show, which is held in Las Vegas each year at the beginning of April. As a consultant who must bill hours to make a living, my time is valuable and I try to choose one major trade show a year to attend.

The two biggest shows — at least in the United States — are ISC West in the Spring and ASIS in the Fall. While ASIS is historically an end user show and ISC West a dealer/integrator event, in practice, the functions are similar. Both are great networking opportunities, offer a wide variety of products to see, and include extensive training sessions and educational panels. So why choose one over the other? For me, it’s simple. ISC West is held in Las Vegas each year, while ASIS changes cities annually. Sometimes the ASIS venue is great, sometimes not, but Las Vegas is always the premier convention destination with inexpensive flights and hotel rooms, plenty to do after hours, and the comfort of familiarity.

That being said, the show this year, at least for me, was more about what wasn’t there than what was. If 2010 was the year of incremental improvement, 2011 was the year of the copycat. With very few exceptions, I didn’t see much that was new, but I did see a wide distribution of a narrow set of ideas.

Take media converters for example. Last year there were a small number of companies making these devices — essentially black boxes that take one kind of signal and turn it into another, converting it back at the other end. There were converters that send Ethernet over fiber optic cable, Ethernet over coaxial cable, Ethernet over CAT3 UTP, Ethernet range extenders, wireless Ethernet. If you’re like me, you see a pattern emerging. There were Ethernet network switches, power over Ethernet (PoE) injectors, you name it — and every third booth was showing it. I think there were more RJ45 connectors than there were escort service solicitations at the show this year, but maybe that’s just my perception.

My point is that none of this was new. Almost everything we saw was there last year, just in fewer booths, flavors and colors. It was almost as if everyone spent 2010 looking at the competition, and this year everyone essentially became the competition.

In some ways, this is good. There are more choices as to vendors, more mature products, and more competition means better pricing and support. With little to copy this year, manufacturers better put their thinking caps on or there won’t be much to show next year.

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