It’s hard to believe, but this year’s conference in Barcelona marks the tenth anniversary of NetApp Insight in EMEA. Having been there for the very first NetApp Insight EMEA event in Prague in 2008, I can tell you that Insight has transformed dramatically since then.

 

A few years before the first Insight event took place, there was a U.S. conference for employees and partners called Fall Classic. This was a purely technical conference where people from around the world gathered to discuss storage systems, or “filers” as they were known at the time. As a storage engineer working at a Dutch IT company, Fall Classic was at the top of my list, and in 2008, I was finally able to go! Then, NetApp announced that Fall Classic was going to be rebranded as NetApp Insight, hosted in both the United States and Europe. While I was upset that my first U.S. trip would have to wait, Insight in Prague didn’t disappoint.

 

NetApp Insight EMEA 2008 was hosted at the Hilton hotel in Prague. Although the event had about 1,000 attendees, there were only around 40 Dutch employees and partners at the conference. The few sessions available were mostly deeply technical, and the event felt more like training for the ONTAP operating system than anything else. Between sessions, there was plenty of time for networking and meet ups with product managers for follow-on discussions. This event enabled me to gain much deeper insights into ONTAP and the products around it while helping me extend my network and meet fellow NetApp enthusiasts. The community spirit and willingness to help shown by all NetApp speakers at Insight 2008 is something that I still recognise at NetApp Insight events to this day.

 

After a cold Insight in Prague, the conference was moved to the Intercontinental Hotel in Athens in 2009. The number of attendees expanded, as well as the number of sessions. Although, with the political climate in Greece at the time, the mood was often very tense. While this conference was even better than the one in 2008, Insight was moved back to Prague for 2010.

 

Data ONTAP 8.0 was introduced that year, so the amount of new information available was immense. The technical breakout sessions were scattered across many conference rooms in the hotel. In the general sessions, I learned more about NetApp’s vision and strategy. As a storage engineer, this gave me a broader view of NetApp’s future and the future of our industry that I didn’t have before. The future of the data center was no longer based on disk space, but on the possibility to scale as needed for the business.

 

After another cold Insight, the conference was moved to Rome for 2011. Rome provided a bigger location, and thankfully, a much warmer climate. That year, more alliance partners joined the conference to talk about their products, and the cloud buzz started to grow. As a technical consultant, this helped me define my company’s data center concepts around future cloud developments. The Customer Appreciation event at Villa Miani was a little awkward, as the Italians thought the visitors would be anxious to try the country’s great wines. Beers ran out within 1 hour. It almost became a contest to see who could befriend the bartenders to give us one of the few bottles they had stashed under the counter! At the closing keynote, one message was clear—there would be enough beer at Insight 2012!

 

I’m happy to report that promise was kept, as Insight 2012 was held in one of the beer capitals of Europe: Dublin. The two years that Insight was held in Dublin were spectacular. The Convention Centre Dublin housed the expanded group of NetApp employees and partners. With a much bigger auditorium, the keynotes became bigger and better. The products became faster, as flash made its entrance that year. One keynote that I’ll never forget as a storage engineer was the story of Matt Watts. I wasn’t just a “storage guy”: I was the storage guy, in charge of enabling my business and the businesses of my customers.

 

Matt Watts

And of course, there was plenty of beer, with a storehouse full of Guinness. Insight 2012 also had one of the most remarkable Customer Appreciation events. There was a U2 cover band that would have made Bono proud. Two NetApp employees also performed, covering almost every band. They were nearly mobbed on stage as the audience shouted, “we want more!”  At one of the NetApp Dutch team dinners, one of my colleagues got some nuts in his dinner after clearly explaining to the staff that he was allergic. After a quick ride to the hospital and a few hours on oxygen and antihistamines, thankfully, everything was ok. What can I say, some people really do “go nuts” in Dublin…

Data Fabric

Fast-forward to 2014, where Insight EMEA was held at the City Cube in Berlin. One of the most historic cities in the world became the place for one of the most amazing tech conferences in the world. With the introduction of the Data Fabric vision, NetApp demonstrated that they were no longer a storage-only company.

 

2014 was the first year that customers were invited to NetApp Insight. After hearing this news, I thought it would mean the end of the really in-depth knowledge sharing which I came to love about NetApp Insight. Turns out, I was completely wrong. Not only did the amount of breakout sessions explode, so too did the openness of the NetApp community. The speakers didn’t hold out on their information, and the sessions were still as good as those first years, albeit with a few more roadmap disclaimers. Birds-of-a-Feather sessions were introduced, allowing attendees to have a more interactive discussion with presenters on select topics. I thought the 1-on-1 VIP sessions introduced in 2014 were especially cool. It’s great to be able to discuss your business needs directly with NetApp executives.

 

And despite what you may think, there is plenty of fun to be had in Berlin. The parties were bigger and better. NetApp celebrated “movember” in earnest, with some of the most amazing moustaches and beards I’ve ever seen (some heroes even dyed them blue!). Donations were collected to support men’s health organizations.

Viva Barcelona!

This year, we’ve come to yet another new locale—Barcelona! In the beautiful Spanish city of Gaudi, we’ll get a new look at NetApp’s evolving Data Fabric vision. Although a lot of this information is already available from the U.S. Insight conference, NetApp usually reserves some special information for its EMEA events.

 

This year, we’re seeing the Data Fabric grow beyond the vision we saw in Berlin—it is now a reality. With data portability from edge to core to cloud across almost the entire NetApp portfolio, you know you can rely on NetApp to make sure your data is where you need it, when you need it. The Data Fabric also provides immense possibilities for new and emerging developments like IoT and AI.

 

As a NetApp United member, I’m able to share my deeper insights into NetApp with the broader global community that I’ve been a part of since my first NetApp conference. A lot of the attendees I met there are still great resources for me. I’m sure I will meet a lot of my old peers from back then, and hopefully a lot of new community members in Barcelona.

 

NetApp isn’t the same company it was back in 2008—they have evolved into something much more. NetApp is a company with vision, strategy, and operations aligned for the next 10 years.

 

Giving back to the community has been a focus of Insight EMEA from the very beginning. This year, NetApp will donate 1 euro to e-learning for kids for every tweet signed with #NetAppInsight to help give kids the opportunity to learn, thrive, and build a better future. Follow my lead and share your NetApp Insight experiences, but don’t forget to use the hashtag #NetAppUnited!

Richard van Dantzig

Richard has worked in the datacenter space since 2004. Currently, he is a Datacenter Architect at The Storage Professionals in The Netherlands. With his broad knowledge of storage and virtualization, he is able to assist his customers on their journey to digital transformation. As both a NetApp United member and a VMware vExpert, he is an active contributor in the global tech community.