I walked into the large Olympia Hall in London for the yearly Cloud Expo Europe this week, and my heart sank. Why? Suits. Thousands of guys in suits. Suits everywhere. Not just ordinary white-collar suit — I’m surrounded by power suits. Suits that say “general manager”, “CEO” and “the man with the money”. Suits deep in conversation at the many exhibition stands. Suits queuing to enter the conference sessions.

It’s the sartorial elegance that makes me nervous. I’m a sysadmin – a guy who has a deep understanding of cloud technology and little understanding of how to hold a conversation. Looking the part is not my strong point. I’m lucky if I can wear matching socks, let alone pull off a power-dresser look.

Why are these well-dressed people here? Who are they? What do they gain from the Cloud Expo Europe?

It’s got enterprise written all over it

Cloud Expo Europe is a free two-day event located in London. It attracts a variety of visitors, but I reckon most of the visitors are IT professionals sent from enterprises. This conference is ideal for decision makers – business managers and enterprise chiefs. It’s heavy on the big picture and light on the nuts and bolts.

The visitors – the ones in the suits – are people from organizations that have a business need to get to grips with cloud computing. They may need to understand who the suppliers are, or get tips on building a business case, or talk to experts about product features. There aren’t all that many hallmarks of the IT world – it may be a mostly male crowd, but there’s real lack of gadgets and hardware. Brocade has a 19″ rack on their stand, but most stands have barely a laptop – there are plenty of freebies, but few blinkenlights.

The speakers are business leaders – the kind of people who are high up in companies like Dominos, Firehost and IBM. Many half-hour talks take place over the two days, delivered from nine themed stages.

  • I miss the talk with the biggest crowd – Chris Kemp, CEO of Nebula, talking about OpenStack.
  • I’m relieved that Jesse Robbins, CEO of Opscode, is wearing a T-shirt. Jesse is talking about how to be a “force for awesome” on the “keynote theatre” stage.
  • I catch the last talk of the day on the “security and governance” stage. Steven Clarke of Vyatta is talking about SDN.

The exhibitors are global players with established businesses and large turnovers – the kind that procurement departments can feel safe putting on their preferred supplier lists. Big names like Rackspace, Flexiant and Opscode have stands here. I wander round, partly for work and partly for pleasure.

  • I talk about OpenStack at the Rackspace stand (that makes up for missing Chris Kemp).
  • I score a big fat zero in the sake tasting game on the NTT stand.
  • I get a toy plane from the Savvis stand.

I round off the working day with a free beer from Flexiant, but that’s not the end of the expo day. Even though the main floor is closing, a few co-located events are taking place. Cloudcamp take over the keynote theatre. Big Data London are dishing out free pizza.

Other cloud events

A variety of cloud events take place each year.

I went to one of Amazon’s conferences last year in London (AWS are absent from Cloud Expo Europe). The first day was AWS Cloud for Start-Ups & Developers. The dress code was casual and the average age seemed to be 12. The second day was Cloud Computing for the Enterprise and suits were in order. In May this year the Interop conference takes place in Las Vegas. That will be another suit-heavy event – at least until the delegates bet their shirts. IEEE CLOUD 2013 – June, Santa Clara – will presumably be full of researchers in lab coats.

Less nerd, more business

This really isn’t what I expect from an IT expo. It’s not rough around the edges. It isn’t knee-deep in clunky new technology. The visitors are sophisticated and the exhibitors are aligned with enterprise needs. I guess cloud computing really is mainstream now.

Are you planning to attend any conferences geared toward cloud computing this year? Have you been to any that you thought were particularly informative for those on the administrator level?