RSA and OSBC: It's a trade show double header

I have a modest request of the technical/scientific community: Will someone please hack the space-time continuum and create a Tivo for trade shows?

While I'm waiting for this much needed 2.0 release of reality, I'll be burning up the 101 between San Jose and San Francisco next week to cover two must-attend events: the annual RSA Conference, held this year in San Jose at the McEnery Convention Center (Feb 13-17), and the West Coast edition of the biannual Open Source Business Conference (OSBC), held this year at the Argent Hotel in San Francisco (Feb 14-15).

The RSA security conference is one of my all-time favorite tech trade shows. It's been running for 15 years now, and it just keeps getting bigger—which isn't surprising. Security moved from a check-box item to the top of the enterprise priority list after the 911 terrorist attacks. Recent headline-grabbing breaches have just made it more of a priority. There's really nothing like news that the FTC has spanked ChoicePoint with the $10 million fine for a data breach that compromised financial records of more than 163,000 consumers, more than 800 of whom became victims of identity theft, to get management focused on security.

This year's RSA show promises to be a humdinger, with 17 class tracks, 200 sessions, and a bucket of pre-conference tutorials. Conference organizers are expecting 14,000 attendees and 275 exhibitors. The keynote roster is star-studded, and includes highly anticipated presentations by Microsoft's Bill Gates and Cisco Systems chief John Chambers. Gates and Chambers are expected to talk about their companies' network-access control strategies, which appears to be something of a theme at this year's show. Gates is likely to discuss Microsoft's Network Access Protection (NAP) technology; Chambers will probably tout Network Admission Control (NAC).

RSA 2006 also features the ever popular, much anticipated, eagerly awaited (drum roll please) Cryptographers Panel! Moderated by Burt Kaliski, VP of research and chief scientist at conference organizer RSA Laboratories, this year's panel includes Martin Hellman, Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering at Stanford University; Ronald Rivest, Viterbi Professor of Computer Science at MIT; Whitfield Diffie, Chief Security Officer at Sun Microsystems; and Adi Shamir, Professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

The info security guys are definitely my favs. They are the true über geeks, and RSA is definitely their event. Where else could you see a keynote presentation called ''Codes and Ciphers in Ancient India''? Very cool.

In fact, I'd be in geek-wannabe heaven if the OSBC show weren't running at the same time as RSA—and in a different freakin' city. Though much younger—this is its third year—the OSBC has already proven to be an important event. In a way, this is the anti-geek show; no science experiments, just two days of sessions and keynotes focused on making money with open source. This year's show continues to spotlight applications, says OSBC's conference director, Matt Asay (pronounced ''AY-see'') but there's an additional emphasis this year on the community aspect of commercial open source.

''We have tended to think of community as something that applies to open-source pure play products,'' Asay says. ''But I think community is equally important—maybe more important—for commercial open-source enterprises. So there's a big emphasis [at this show] on how you build communities around open-source commercial projects, how you feed those communities, what the best practices are, where you go to find the developers, and how you market to them. I believe that those companies who are best at creating communities will be the most successful financially.''

The shows keynote lineup includes Sun Microsystems COO Jonathan Schwartz, Microsoft's director of platform technology Bill Hilf, open source guru Mitch Kapor, SAP EVP Peter Graf, SpikeSource CEO Kim Polese, SugarCRM co-founder John Roberts, and PayPal's pres Peter Thiel. Nick Carr, former editor of the Harvard Business review and author of Does IT Matter? Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage, and Stanford Law School professor Lawrence Lessig will also be speaking. 

 I was surprised to learn that Microsoft has been a platinum sponsor of this event since it began in April 2004. ''[Microsoft] has been a great sponsor and hasn't tried to steer the content in any way,'' says Asay. ''Why? I think they're actively trying to figure out this open source thing.''

This show also features an interesting program of sessions divided into four tracks: ''What's Now,'' which covers current strategic issues around enterprise adoption of OSS; ''What's Next,'' which highlights emerging trends, opportunities, and strategies for the open source company, with an emphasis on applications; ''What's Legal,'' which takes on such issues as patents, dual licensing, corporate review boards, GPL 3.0, among others; and ''What's Starting,'' which is a new track started in the most recent Boston edition of the conference. This last track presents ''today's most promising early-stage open-source startups, most of which will be seen at OSBC for the first time.'' That list includes Alfresco, EnterpriseDB, Funambol, GroundWork, JasperSoft, Pentaho, Project.Net, Realm Systems, rPath , SugarCRM, Zmanda, and others.

The event's ''Emerging Elite Showcase'' will feature about 30 open-source startups in what Asay describes as an intimate exhibit. ''When we were just getting started with this conference, we struggled to find a dozen startups worth mentioning,'' Asay says. ''In the space of two years, the market has grown dramatically. Now it's a struggle to limit the number of companies in the showcase.''

BTW: Even if you're not attending, check out the RSA conference Web site (http://2006.rsaconference.com/us/). This may be the best-designed conference site I've ever seen. It's easy to navigate, thoughtfully layered, and packed with information. Did I mention that it's easy to navigate. I encourage—no, I’m begging—every event organizer to check out this site. Take particular note of the way the agenda is searchable by day and session type. It’s the little things, you know? ###

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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