Observations from Tech Show London 2023

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Last week Paul Bevan and I attended both days of CloserStill Media’s Tech Show London at the ExCel. Paul was there as a Bloor Research analyst and expert on Cloud infrastructure. I was there as Chair of the Cloud Industry Forum (CIF), working with Fujitsu, one of our members, but also with a Bloor Research digital hat on too. We got our heads together afterwards and here are our thoughts on the show.

The show combines Data Centre World at the west end of the halls, Cloud Expo Europe at the east end, with areas for DevOps Live, Cloud & Cyber Security Expo, and Big Data & AI World. The event felt as busy or busier than we’ve ever seen it, although it seemed be a very techie, practitioner-oriented audience, with not so many CIOs or CEOs in evidence, at least from the small sample of people we talked to. It has become a massive show, covering a lot the technology landscape, with some 500 speakers across 16 stages, and that’s not including the vendors who had their own presentation areas as part of their stands – like Fujitsu for example. With them I moderated 2 panel sessions in Theatre 2, and 2 expert talks about the latest CIF Cloud landscape research report, and my take on what happens next – the Third Wave of the Internet. Paul was in full on analyst mode, trying to pick out the best presentations, and talking to a lot of people.

What did we see?

The Data Centre World end of the show was very intense and detailed. We noticed a huge divide between Facilities and IT and we feel they need to get closer when making decisions on building and running data centres. As we moved towards the Cloud Expo end there was plenty of talk around Cloud but much less detail or clarity around the different versions of their cloud story. The CIF research suggests 42% of companies have a Cloud First strategy, or are moving all their infrastructure to the Cloud, whereas 55% are Hybrid Cloud or Multicloud, with 2% staying on premises. There was plenty of talk around choosing the right place for each workload, with the 3 hyper-scale Cloud providers being an option, rather than the only option, and a recognition that we now live in a necessarily Hybrid Cloud world where Private Cloud and colocation sit happily alongside Public Cloud, SaaS, and legacy systems. Repatriation of systems was being mentioned, but in many cases you might have been forgiven for thinking that applications were being repatriated on-premises in legacy tech mode. We saw a lot of talk around hosting and building managed service offerings, but less Cloud product offerings. We heard companies talking about helping you migrate, and then running the cloud for you. Again, there was little overt messaging around what type of Cloud that might be.

Security is clearly top of mind and a lot of security solutions were present. We heard less than we expected about containerisation and micro services. It was notable that all across the halls any stand with messaging around AI had a big audience listening and talking (the ChatGPT effect?), although there was less AI content in the presentations.

We heard plenty of talk about the unpredictability of costs of some Cloud services, and heard messaging around better control and the FinOps topic. We are definitely hearing how complex the Cloud landscape and available tools have become, and we only saw a few people separating out the underlying Cloud technology from the Cloud as a pay as you use consumption model. Hats off here notably to Joe Baguley of VMWare and the guys in the Fujitsu ecosystem.

One topic that has definitely come to the fore is Sustainability. We feel that the companies that were paying lip service to the ESG topic are now getting serious. Increasing certification and EU law is putting pressure on vendors to act.  We felt it was the number 1 topic being talked about, and we have two providers whose story stood out – OVHcloud and Serverfarm LLC. More on these in further posts.

We did notice a tendency for “clickbait” titles, where the actual presentation content didn’t match the headline, often when it was still good content. Of course, across that many halls and speakers, the quality was varied. Paul was frustrated that many of the sessions he wanted to see clashed, and we both wondered whether the event, in terms of topics, has got a bit too big, too messy? It was interesting to see IBM there as the headline sponsor as they are a consulting led organisation now, and we wondered if this was the right audience for them.

International Women’s day (first day of the conference)

Within Data Centre World in the west halls we saw very few women, and as you moved east towards Cloud Expo the number of women on stands and in the audience steadily increased. It highlights our industry is still only 18% women with not enough of those in leadership positions. While the Mainstage had a significant number of senior women presenting, we think too often vendors and exhibitors missed a trick on that first day, as we didn’t see many senior women presenting beyond the Mainstage, or enough good presentations addressing this key issue of diversity and inclusion.

Are those slides or a handout?

One of the issues we noticed was the general quality of the presenters, and the proliferation of busy and unreadable slides. If they are difficult to read from 10 feet away, what hope has the person on the back row of the hall got? When creating those slide decks, are you creating something that will get the message across with big, readable words, good diagrams and pictures, or does it contain all of the detail and words of a handout? We’ve never been great at this as an industry, but it felt like the standard is going down, not up.

We would like to offer our particular favourite, chosen by Paul as I missed this session. Vidhyalakshmi Karthikeyan, Head of Data and Insights at YouView TV presented “It’s not easy being good: a story about data quality”. Paul tells me she told a strong, compelling story with simple, sensible slide visuals. Her company deals with a lot of user data, and her talk addressed the challenges and importance of ensuring data quality under both volume and time pressures to deliver timely and accurate insights. Her examples of what went well and what didn’t work were particularly helpful.

In Conclusion

We only saw and talked to a fraction of the presentations, exhibitors, and attendees, so this is our particular viewpoint. The volume of attendees, and the quality of the vendors, service providers, and their stands at the event is a good indicator of how positive we should be feeling about the tech sector in 2023. This show highlights we are all working in a complex Cloud landscape with Hybrid and Multicloud growing in importance. Sustainability and Security are top of mind, FinOps and predictability of Cloud costs are important, and people are definitely accelerating their transformation plans. After two years of turbulence, we think Cloud is growing up and a new realism is breaking out.