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GDT’s John Woodall Comments on Partner Event Cancellations

The following was originally posted by Joseph F. Kovar on CRN.

Two storage-focused conferences originally scheduled to be held in May have been cancelled in the face of concerns caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

The Rubrik Forward conference, which had been set to be held in Chicago from May 11 to 13, will now be held on-line as a virtual conference on May 11, Palo Alto, Calif.-based Rubrik said Monday.

The Zadara Summit 2020 conference, which had been scheduled in Las Vegas for May 6 to 7, was cancelled, Irvine, Calif.-based Zadara said Monday.

News of the event changes came the same day that the storage industry’s largest vendor, Dell Technologies, said that its Dell Technologies World 2020, originally scheduled for May 4 to 7, would be held instead as a virtual conference.

With the cancellations, there is now only one major face-to-face storage industry event slated to be held in May. That event is VeeamON, sponsored by Veeam, which on Monday said that that event for now is still scheduled to be held in Las Vegas from May 4 to 6.

These kind of cancellations are to be expected, and could change how IT industry events are held in the future, solution providers told CRN.

John Woodall, vice president of engineering at Integrated Archive Systems, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based solution provider and Rubrik channel partner recently acquired by GDT, said he had been planning to attend the Rubrik conference, but agrees with the idea of canceling it and similar conferences.

A lot of companies are making decisions now to minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19 coronavirus,” Woodall told CRN. “In the tech industry, it’s becoming common to see an event cancelled or pushed out to a later date. This is just prudence and caution, not a need to panic. Rubrik is just following the recommendations of the CDC and trying to minimize the possibility of exposure.”

Paul Clifford, president of Davenport Group, a St. Paul-based solution provider and Dell Technologies channel partner, said it was very courteous of Dell to provide the details as soon as they could.

“There are a lot of working parts,” Clifford told CRN.

Dell Technologies World is always a big event for Davenport, which had plans to bring about 12 of its personnel and 20 customers to Las Vegas for the event, Clifford said.

“But the health concerns trump it all,” he said. “It’s fair. I think it’s the right decision, and I’m glad they told us as soon as they could.”

While two of the storage vendors, Rubrik and Dell Technologies, are planning virtual events instead of the planned in-person events, solution providers said the virtual events will not be a complete replacement.

Clifford said he has never participated in a virtual event, and so does not know how effective they might be.

“It won’t have the impact an in-person event will,” he said. “But there will be important information. We won’t be able to network. But virtual events are the next-best things to being there.”

Glenn Dekhayser, field chief technology officer at Red8, a Costa Mesa, Calif.-based solution provider and Rubrik channel partner, said the cancellations are not over-reactions to the coronavirus despite the importance of face-to-face meetings with industry contacts and channel peers.

“Everyone wants to go have fun in Las Vegas,” Dekhayser told CRN. “Virtual conferences have never been done for major events. How will they keep people at their desk interested in the event?

Live events are very expensive the vendors, exhibitors, and attendees, and so the major advantage of a virtual event is not having to worry about too many people in the room, Dekhayser said.

“If any one of these vendors can make the virtual event work, get the information out, get the attendees in, get the alliance partners to benefit, it’s multiples cheaper,” he said. “That will let them invest more in how to get value from the event. And this gives them a lot of opportunities for creativity.”

Unlike another major cancelled event, SXSW, which is focused on entertainment, storage industry events are focused on education, and that makes it possible to hold a virtual event, Dekhayser said.

“But other virtual events in the past were boring and ineffective,” he said. “How will the OEMs keep people engaged? If they just put up a bunch of webinars, it won’t work. You have to think out of the box. You have to look at how to keep attendees’ attention. Maybe they will have to let attendees earn something for attending. This is a major opportunity for the industry.”

For the technical people in the storage industry, virtual events should work well, but their effectiveness for the sales people is in the air, Dekhayser said.

“They will need new ways to do this,” he said. “There’s an opportunity for people to add new value. There’s lots of way they can do it well. And lots of ways they can fail.”

Rubrik, in a blog post, said that it is switching to a virtual event out of caution.

“Over the last several weeks, we have been closely monitoring the developments around the coronavirus (COVID-19). Like many organizations, our priority is for the safety and wellbeing of our customers, partners, employees, and community. In response to customer input and the guidelines set out by the CDC, Rubrik FORWARD, our inaugural user conference set to take place in Chicago on May 11-13th, will be reimagined as a fully digital experience. … The opportunity to redefine this event has allowed us to reflect on what truly makes an unforgettable conference for our community. We’re thrilled to deliver an innovative and interactive experience where attendees can explore the latest technologies, unlock new business use cases, and be inspired by some of today’s boldest thinkers,” Rubrik wrote.

Dell Technologies, in a blog post, said changing its event is not a decision that was made lightly.

“Because nothing is more important than the health and safety of our team members, customers, partners and suppliers, we have decided to make Dell Technologies World 2020 a virtual event. This decision was not made lightly. As we learn more about the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, we know this is the right thing to do, given the global nature of Dell Technologies World. The core of what we set out to accomplish together is still important, which is why we will deliver keynotes, select breakout sessions and live chats with experts as a virtual experience,” Dell Technologies wrote.

Zadara told CRN via email that canceling its event was a difficult decision.

“This was a tough call to make — Zadara’s Summit is an incredibly important event for us and it’s one of our favorite ways to celebrate our global community — but we need to prioritize the health and safety of our partners, employees and everyone who helps put the Summit on. We explored other ways to keep the event date, but it’s more important for us to host an inclusive event and it didn’t feel right to have it without our global community in attendance,” Zadara told CRN.

A Veeam spokesperson told CRN via email that Veeam is actively monitoring the situation every day, but for right now the conference is still on.

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