The Interop conference convening this week will be a far cry from the gathering of a small group of technology pioneers who sought interoperability among Internet devices 30 years ago.
Then, the 1986 invitation-only TCP/IP Interoperability Conference drew representatives from 65 tech companies.
The 30th version running this week in Las Vegas features a trade show with more than 160 vendors displaying their wares and where its interoperability mission ventures far outside the show’s signature InteropNet Demo Lab. This year it is focused on promoting interoperability among Internet of Things devices, a category of gear unheard of that first year.
Thousands of corporate networking pros from all disciplines will also converge on the convention to kick the tires on products on the show floor, to meet among themselves and attend formal education sessions.
Interop embraces its educational mission with seven summits focused on hot issues for corporate networking pros: the IoT Summit, IT Leadership, Cybersecurity, DevOps for Networking, Software Defined Networking, Future of Networking, and Container summits
The show includes a battery of keynote addresses, relying heavily on presentations from networking practitioners from enterprises including the Sacramento Kings, Clorox, Coca-Cola, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, H.D. Smith, and Walmart Labs.
Also presenting keynotes are vendors such as Cisco, Google, Nexus IS, PacketPushers, and Salesforce. Gone are the days when the CEOs of the major networking companies such as Cisco’s John Chambers, Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Novell’s Eric Schmidt (now with Alphabet/Google) would reserve their keynote slots to make major announcements. This year Cisco’s keynote is delivered by a senior vice president and Google’s by one of the company’s technical fellows.
The first show was the brainchild of Dan Lynch, who, while working on the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), thought the growth of the network would be better served if the gear powering it were interoperable. He organized the TCP/IP Vendors Workshop, the plainly named conference that evolved into the Interop of today.
Other names the show has sported include TCP/IP Interoperability Exhibition and Solutions Showcase, Interop and Networld+Interop.
The show has also bounced around quite a bit. It started off in Monterey, Calif., but has also been hosted in Santa Clara, Calif., Arlington, Va., New York City, Atlanta and Las Vegas. International versions are now held in Tokyo and Shanghai, but have also been held in Paris and Mumbai.
The history of Interop closely reflects the history of networking itself, including the battles over Ethernet v. Token Ring, routing v. switching, private data centers v. cloud and ATM v. MPLS. The show provides a resource for discussing emerging trends such as containers and IoT, but also a forum for sometimes whimsical experimentation, such as a demonstration of Ethernet over barbed wire. It even presaged the IoT with the 1989 demonstration of the Internet-connected toaster created as a lark by John Romkey and Simon Hackett.
Current organizers of Interop recognize its changing role over the years. The current general manager of the show, Jennifer Jessup, says it will continue to evolve.
“Networking is cool, essential,” she writes. “Networking is open systems, open source, infrastructure as code, software-defined everything. Internet of Things is the next market set to explode - IoT becomes a reality only through the network of data between devices, sensors and systems. Bottom line is networking now requires new skills and new technologies…From this point forward Interop pledges to embrace the network and the technologies that feed off of it.”
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