As I clickety clack my way home on the train from my first day experiencing SpiceWorld, I thought it would be worth jotting down a few thoughts from the day. For those people who haven’t heard of the conference before, I would describe it as a vendor sponsored conference largely about Spiceworks, but with a healthy sprinkling of community content for good measure.
The day (unsurprisingly) started with the keynote session, which kicked off with something which is apparently a SpiceWorld tradition. An amusing video, this time about the Spiceworks staff who weren’t able to come to London for the event, so held their own mock conference featuring a smoking Microsoft Clippy as keynote speaker and the currently under secret development, iGunbrellunger (don’t ask!).
The keynote was split into three main sections, most of which were explaining for the benefit of non-Spiceheads, where Spiceworks originated. Some of those key facts being:
- Founded in 2005 with a vision to create iTunes for system management.
- First version released in 2006, which was (quite transparently) a free service with Google AdWords built into the the client from day one
- Reached 1m users within about 4 years
- By the end of 2014 they were serving 3.4m users and 100m page views per month on their platform
For me, some of the more interesting things covered were around the thought processes and principles by which the company was founded. These include concentrating on developing the 20% of functionality which users require 80% of the time (hence not spending resources developing stuff users will hardly use), and building a strong community to which services could be provided. This week Spiceworks have released their latest feature, which is an SDK for developers to be able to fill the feature gaps with whatever they can dream up, and made these available via an App Store interface. Extensibility FTW!
— Alex Galbraith (@alexgalbraith) May 12, 2015
Their commercial model was further enhanced through the years by allowing users to rate ads so they didn’t receive irrelevant content. In 2010 Spiceworks used the performance, configuration and even warranty data they held on their customer’s solutions to warn customers when they may need to upgrade kit, and to offer them the appropriate SKUs to order from their partner suppliers, all from within the client… Very clever indeed! Similarly when client printers are running low on ink, they notify administrators and offer the ability to procure replacements. A very simple but highly effective solution, and as long as those partners are offering competitive rates, then a win-win for all it seems!
I had some very interesting conversations in the vendor breakout area including a couple of particular interest to me. The first of these was with a company I had only recently heard about, Cyberoam, who provide UTM devices for SMBs. They aren’t massively well known in the UK, but have significantly larger market shares in other parts of the world, such as South Africa, where I’m told they rank 3rd in terms of unit sales. Their offerings seem pretty interesting and relatively keenly priced, particularly as the software on all models is identical, with the only differences between models tending to be around their throughput/connection capabilities.
Cyberoam are now also part of Sophos, so have pretty decent backing and are definitely worth checking out, if the interface demo I saw was anything to go by. Comparing their product lineup, if you are looking for something with high availability and the ability to rack mount, then your real entry point solution is something like the Cyberoam 25iNG, capable of 125Mbps of full UTM throughput, or >1Gbps of standard firewall traffic. Certainly comparable with many of the big name solutions out there.
The second company which I took note of was Scale Computing. I believe that although they are a relatively mature solution in the hyper-converged space, having been around since the noughties, they only recently presented at tech field day but were pretty well received. Also targeting the SME space, they too are keenly priced, starting at about £20k for 3 nodes and a bunch of Sata drives. As you move up the model ranges you get more compute and faster SAS disks. Their licensing model is all inclusive, including a KVM hypervisor underlying (though you still need to buy Windows licenses if that’s your chosen OS, so some of those KVM savings are lost already). For me, the only element l feel potentially let the product down is the lack of SSDs, but if the primary audience is only looking to run a handful of VMs such as DCs, file servers, Exchange etc, then it could be a very good value proposition.
I attended a number of sessions throughout the rest of the day including Andrew Bettany on the IT certification hamster wheel (something I think we all know too well!), the Ctrl Alt Tech IT Pro Web Show, a very brief session from Dell on Big Data, and Unitrends’ session on their new Free Edition. These sessions were all fine, though I felt they potentially lacked the depth I have seen at other events. That said, the last two sessions of the afternoon were really what made the day for me.
The penultimate session of the day was Andy Malone talking about TOR and the Dark Web. This session was genuinely quite disturbing, but gave a great insight into the kinds of content available via TOR, and how to identify and lock down users from potentially using TOR networks to abuse your IT services.
In the demo, Andy actually loaded up the TOR client live on stage and went fishing in the depths for some content that was not too NSFW, but it wasn’t that easy to find:
The example below also describes some of the potential fingerprints left behind after a user has been using TOR, allowing you to at least know it’s going on, if not what has been accessed.
The final session was a real breath of fresh air, and definitely made a nice change from the usual tech conference keynotes. It was presented by special guest Simon Singh, who talked about the subjects of several of his books, and finished with a live demonstration of a real enigma machine which he had brought along. This was really quite fascinating, especially to consider the level of complexity of these cryptographic systems even 70+ years ago!
The day ended with some great community discussion at the Unitrends Happy Hour, after which it was time for me to head home, missing the chance to head out to the Namco Funscape for the Totally 80s party!
So closing thoughts for day one? Well as I mentioned above I would like to have perhaps seen a little more technical depth to one or two of the presentations, but overall it was definitely a worthwhile experience and has opened my eyes to some of the challenges and the perceptions which some of my customers have. The price for the event is typically around £150 for the two days, with numerous early bird discounts, so is significantly less expensive than other paid vendor events. If you don’t have the budget to go to a paid event, or would like to build on the knowledge you have gained from Spiceworld, I suggest you check out your local VMUG event, or even better the UK VMUG event held in Birmingham every year. These events are well attended by vendors and community members alike, so well worth checking out!
Anyhow, I’m definitely looking forward to day two and it’s getting late, so for now, nuff said!
Disclaimer: Please note that Spiceworks kindly provided my entry to the event, but there was no expectation or request for me to write about their products or services.