Despite the grumpy headlines coming out of the Consumer Electronics Show this year, it's easy to get excited about the prospect of hitting Vegas and checking out all the hip, new gadgets, along with the occasional useful new piece of business technology.
For those of us who do tech for a living, there are, of course, a world of more focused and vertical-specific trade shows and conferences that are a little easier to rationalize in the expense budget. If you are considering attending a conference or two in 2012, here are some candidates where you can share ideas with peers and get courted by tech vendors. Oh yeah, there probably will be some neat chachkes, too.
We've broken the shows out by category, for review by your team. We've included only shows occurring in the United States, and some obvious candidates (such as Gartner's Symposium/ITXPO) have yet to set their 2012 dates and locations. And, of course, this is only a small sampling of what continues to be a lucrative trade show industry. If you know of or are involved with a show you think would be useful to your peers, please add basic information and a link to the show's site in the comments section of this post.
Jan. 17-26, New Orleans
A wide range of SANS Institute training programs are available in the Crescent City, ranging from Intrusion Detection to locking down virtualized environments. There's also a "boot camp" if you have team members who need an overall refresher course.
10 Regional Sites in the U.S; two-day events in the Spring and Fall
This show promotes itself as being "at the intersection of Information Security, Physical Security, Compliance, IT Audit, Computer Forensics, Enterprise Risk Management, Business Continuity and Security Management." The focus is at the managerial and policy level, but the full range of security issues is covered.
February 14-16, Las Vegas
Tailored specifically for the federal credit union sector, this show obviously will take data security measures and operational lockdown more serious than most.
May 20-23, San Francisco
The 33rd installment of this "flagship" conference promises once again to be about as serious as you can get about security. Much more about research papers and engineering updates than vendor pitches, this is a no-nonsense conference.
Business Design and Innovation
Jan. 23-26, Miami
Most companies know they must develop strategies around mobile, the Cloud, and Big Data, and this show promises to help you tie these technologies together in an overall game plan.
Feb. 13-16, Santa Clara, Calif.
Sept. 10-13, Chicago
"The Cloud" is here to stay, and this show will focus on key issues such as security, ROI, compliance and governance, and the continuing emergence of the "private cloud."
March 29-31, Chicago
Gadgets (such as tablets and mobile tech) tend to be the focus at this event, but other issues such e-Discovery and the legal implications of social media are on the docket as well.
March 6-9, Las Vegas
This show focuses on retail kiosks, interactive advertising, and other commerce-oriented technology. Breakout sessions will focus on effective digital content strategies.
May 10, New York
Nov. 8, Los Angeles
This one-day networking event spans every aspect of small business operations, but, of course, there will be a focus on technology -- businesses spend a lot of money on technology, after all. "Innovation," as always, is the key word.
Networking and Infrastructure
Jan 26-28, San Francisco
Apple enthusiasts love to talk Apple, and there's no better place than the venerable Macworld Expo (re-branded as iWorld). Topics and products range from consumer innovations (which always grab the headlines) to business applications.
Jan. 31-Feb. 3, Miami
This show will focus primarily on networking issues related to IP-based communications, such as Telepresence, Convergent Billing, Broadband Wireless VoIP, and QoS. Vendors and manufacturers offer seminars as well as peer-group events.
Feb. 20-24, Las Vegas
More than 330 exhibitors are expected on the trade show floor for this established event, most focused on convergent and mobile technologies.
March 18-22, Las Vegas
This show, presented by a professional association of data center managers, focuses on both technological and physical challenge of managing data farms, which just keep on growing.
March 19-21, Santa Clara, Calif.
Get hardwired at this leading conference for engineering and design for semi-conductors and other backbone technologies.
March 31-April 1, Denver
This regional show promises a business-centric focus on Apple technology, including round-table discussions with solutions developers and coverage of virtually every business vertical.
March 26-29, San Jose
An extention of the well-established Embed Systems Conference, this umbrella of various shows will focus on education in a variety of arenas, including embedded hardware and software design, total systems integration, power management, android, and embedded security. There also will be a Black Hat security breakout.
March 27-29, Dallas
Efficiency is the catchphrase for the broad range of technologies -- from virtualization to cooling systems -- that will be discussed at this show.
April 15-18, San Francisco
Oct. 7-10, Dallas
This networking event is targeted for communications companies and their suppliers, with a traditional show floor as well as in-depth seminars and peer groups.
April 24-27, Orlando
Tech services providers get highly targeted content in a promised 80 break-out sessions. VPs and analysts are on the suggested attendee list, as well as contact center professionals -- the full gamut.
May 6-10, Las Vegas
October 1-5, New York
If it's tech, it's probably at Interop. The venerable trade show (this year is the 26th edition) remains largely devoted to serious business tech, and so this year's menu includes the Cloud, Desktop Virtualization, Enterprise 2.0, and "Future of Work" -- whatever that means.
June 10-14, San Diego
The networking giant offers a series of educational programs for developers all the way to executives at its annual conference. An IT Management Program promises to focus on the business impact of tech decisions.
June 11-14, Orlando
Face it -- everybody is a Microsoft customer or partner on some level, and TechEd (this year in its 20th edition) is a one-stop bonanza to get informed on what is coming next for the tech behemoth. Sessions range from hands-on labs with new releases to primers on the Microsoft professional certification process.
Enterprise & Business Software
February 22-23, Miami
Best-of-breed Enterprise Resource Planning vendors will be on hand to present in-depth walk-throughs of their offerings, all in one location.
April 24-26, Las Vegas
Auditing wonks, rejoice -- this show is just for you. Topics covered will include social media, risk-based audit plans, and, of course, a general discussion of IT governance practices.
May 7-9, Silicon Valley
This business-to-business show focuses on services relationships in sectors including Knowledge Management and PSA tools to Customer Relationship Management solutions.
May 14-16, Orlando
A stalwart of Enterprise Software tradeshows, this year's SAP event again caters primarily to C-Suite-types who are serious about spending big money on big tech.
June 4-5, Los Angeles
Technology will be one of the leading topics at the largest show for accountants in the Golden State. A free trade show floor is accompanied by a paid conference session.
August 13-15, New York
This show, presented by CRM magazine, will focus on the role of social media in Customer Relationship Management, as well as on ways to extend the payback on this sizable investment.
Software & Web Development
Feb. 14-15, Honolulu
As if you needed another reason to attend one of the best Web search marketing and optimization shows, this year it is moving to Hawaii. Social media is obviously high on the agenda, as well as tactics to get on the good side of an increasingly grumpy Google.
Feb. 28-March 1, San Jose, Calif.
The art of getting found in search engines is ever-evolving, and presentations by Google and other leading search providers are just part of the value you'll find at this show.
May 21-22, San Francisco
Sessions at this cross-platform conference will include the state of Hadoop, trends in mobile app development and HTML5, and the use of Open Source tools to track and mine unstructured data.
July 16-20, Portland
The O'Reilly developer show is a staple for coders in the leading go-anywhere platform. This year's agenda has not been set, but it is sure to be packed with serious tech from folks who enjoy that kind of stuff.
April 3-5, Washington DC
Focusing on the government IT sector, this event promises "in-depth" workshops on Cybersecurity, the Cloud, Records and Information Management, and Defense Innovations, among other issues.
May 15-17, San Antonio, Tex.
Government officials who make or influence procurement decisions may be interested in this three-day show, which includes a certified Continuous Learning Point instructional program.
Just Plain Cool
March 7-8, Chicago
About as micro-niche as you can get, this show will focus on precision manufacturing technologies down to a microscopic level.
May 8-10, Los Angeles
Unless you have an incredibly cool job, you probably won't be able to justify putting this show in your budget, but how cool would it be to attend a conference about launching satellites and space planes?
Oct. 8-10, San Francisco
This global conference will cover a wide range of municipal topics, from mobility to water and waste management. Of course, technology lies at the root of all "smart city" initiatives.
Ken Hardin is a freelance writer and business analyst with more than two decades in technology media and product development. Before founding his own consultancy, Clarity Answers LLC, Ken was a member of the start-up team and an executive with TechRepublic.com and ITBusinessEdge.com.