My Breakout Session
My breakout session on Wednesday, June 13 was the reason I attended Cisco Live, and certainly the reason I was invited to attend by Citrix. I have to say that, while I wondered whether I would like co-presenting with someone from Citrix before flying out to San Diego, I am very grateful that I had Sean Connelly (@XenDesktopArmy) to share the session with me. I’m confident today that I could carry a session on my own, but being able to sit there in the room and observe the attendees while Sean was speaking helped calm my nerves a bit, and also helped give me some insight into the the nerd level of the room and what they were hoping to learn during the session.
Sean and I arrived about fifteen minutes before our session, giving us plenty of time to receive a quick how-to on the mic and clicker. I always try to arrive early to any session I’m attending, mainly so I can get a good seat, preferably near a power outlet, so I’ll admit to a bit of anxiety as the start time of our session, 4PM, drew near. You see, nobody showed up really early. Turns out that wasn’t big deal, as plenty of people showed up a little early, on time, or even a few minutes late. But for those several minutes between really early and a little early … yeah, I was nervous. And you know what? For the last session of the day, especially the last session before the gigantic Customer Appreciation Event of Awesomeness, not having a packed room ten minutes before go-time was just fine. People showed up and, like every other session I attended, were reasonably polite about getting seated if they came in after Sean started speaking.
I hope it isn’t rude of me to admit that I stopped paying a ton of attention to what Sean was saying after the first couple of minutes. I did that for two reasons: 1) I’d seen, heard, and even given a mini version of the Citrix product talk he was giving a number of times, but mostly it was 2) once I realized how much more polished and calm he was than I felt I would be, I decided to pay more attention to the audience. I’d say our audience was a pretty mixed group of people. I recall speaking to a couple of guys from Blue Cross / Blue Shield of Tennessee briefly after the session, so healthcare was represented. I know at least one local government IT guy was there, and I know several other state, federal, and local IT people pre-registered. I also recall someone from Toyota pre-registering, but I believe she attended my talk at the NetApp booth and got one of my business cards and said she’d be in touch, as her office was looking to go down the same road we have.
Sean talked for a while, then passed the baton, or in this case the wired lapel mic and clicker over to me. I fumbled to get the mic properly attached, checked the time, and figured I’d need to gloss over a couple of slides to make sure I left time for Q&A. We’d already confirmed with the conference staff outside that we were the last session, so we could run long if we needed to, but I wanted to make sure that if we did shoot past 5PM, it would be because I was answering questions from the audience, not trying to wrap up my remarks.
During my talk I tried to give an overview of several main points or concepts, some of which I’ve gone into in much greater detail here on the blog. They were:
- The Problem we were trying to solve
- Some details on our environment
- The choice of XenDesktop
- The choice of Cisco UCS, which also meant FlexPod
- Project Milestones (we’re not done yet)
- Wins & Challenges
- Mistakes I’ve made
- What we’ve done right
- Future plans
I thought about including my slides from both sessions in this post, but I’m not sure what value they’d offer in a vacuum, since they really are just memory queues for me more than anything else. Given the positive real-time feedback I receive while discussing some of the mistakes I’ve made, though, I am definitely going to do a post just on those.
Overall, I’d say the talk went well. It took me a couple of minutes, but I found what I think of as a rhythm and settled into it. I walk into any talk like this with two goals in mind – tell it like it is, and don’t be boring. I think I succeeded on both fronts. A couple of people left at 5PM, but nearly everyone else stayed until there weren’t anymore questions, about 5:15. Considering there were major prize drawings going on at 5:30 in the World of Solutions area, I was pleased that people stayed as long as they did. I received some very kind feedback immediately after the session, so I walked away knowing I’d done a good job.
An awesome conversation the next day
I was going through line for lunch on Thursday and someone behind me said “hi” and thanked me for my session. That was a huge surprise, especially considering how many people were at Cisco Live (17,000), not to mention how many lines there were for food, and that I was actually kinda late to lunch that day. I’m sure someone who didn’t major in Latin and Creative Writing could do the math to figure out how unlikely it was that someone who had attended my session the day before would randomly bump into me, but I’m so glad he did. I’m horrible with names, so I don’t recall his name, and while I’m pretty sure I know who he was based on the list of people who pre-registered for my session, I’ll just refer to him as my local government networking pal.
We sat down and ate lunch together and just talked for what might have been a couple of hours. I know we had to rush to make it to the Mythbusters closing keynote. I mentioned in my earlier recap post that this one conversation made the trip worth it for me, and it really did. He had some followup questions about XenDesktop and the various delivery models it has that make it trump VMware View, about licensing on the Citrix side, on the Microsoft side, and even the application side. I was able to give him a much more detailed overview of our environment, and answer a lot of the type of “what about this” questions that only come up once you’re sitting down and having an actual conversation with one or a few people. We talked about how crazy expensive VMware vSphere is, especially in my environment (higher ed) compared to Hyper-V, but how even with the enormous price difference (a difference I double-checked with our Microsoft rep that I’m not allowed to divulge, which I think is *crazy* but it’s their NDA, not mine), in our environment, vSphere was really the only serious choice from the beginning for the hypervisor, and why. I got to nerd out about Cisco UCS and NetApp storage. I got to go into more detail about one of the major mistakes (future post, I promise) I made during the planning and beginning phases of my project.
But this wasn’t just a one-way conversation. I got to pick his brain about Cisco Live and its ongoing value, as he was a multi-year veteran attendee. That topic alone, once I conveyed it to the manager of our Network Services team, produced a commitment to send a few of my networking buddies to Cisco Live 2013. I received some good advice about trying to forge opportunities to direct my career path a bit more towards the Cisco / networking world from a guy whose job is mainly networking-related. I heard about how his locale is looking to work more cooperatively with local school districts, something I’ve seen and heard from a buddy at church who works for a local school district.
I wish I’d taken notes, or at least found the time to write this post sooner, because a lot of the details of our conversation have slipped away from my sleep-deprived new dad brain. What I know for sure was that conversation just about perfectly exemplifies why I agreed to fly across the country and give the talk in the first place – to help someone who may be today exactly where I was a couple years ago. I think I did some of that in my NetApp booth session, and I felt like I did even more of it during my main breakout session. But I know I did it during that awesome one-on-one conversation. That’s why I began this blog too, and why I’m going to keep writing it.
So will I do this again? Heck yeah. I’m looking forward to it already.