Reflecting Upon My First Astricon

Astricon2009This year marks the first time that I have attended Astricon. This is mildly paradoxical since Asterisk hasn’t been at the core of my IP telephony activities for a while. However, the opportunity to talk about HDVoice with a group of Asterisk users was just too good an opportunity to pass up.

My experience of Astricon was better than I had expected on a number of levels. Meeting up with  a number of the VUC regulars was probably the highlight of the event. Though we might speak every week or so to have a sit down and talk in one location remains a treat. Meatspace still trumps cyberspace in some ways.

As someone who routinely attends trade shows large (NAB) & small (TAB) I bring to the effort a set of preconceptions. Astricon turns out to be unlike any other show that I’ve attended. Firstly, it’s largely a technical show. That kind of focus is nice. Secondly, it has a way of binding the user & developer community that I’d never previously experienced.

The range of sessions presented was good. I especially liked Tim Panton‘s presentation on Skype For Asterisk, which incorporated a live demo integrated with Google Wave. Brave, Tim…very brave. Tim has recently recreated his presentation as a screencast to augment the session recording.

The OpenBTS session, which was the last on the show schedule was also extremely good. These two sessions provide proof positive that there is real innovation happening within the Asterisk user community.

I’m told that Fred Posner‘s session on dealing with unexpected hurdles in an Asterisk project was also good, although I didn’t get to see that one myself. I look forward to seeing the sessions that I missed when the video recordings eventually make it online. None of the sessions that I saw suffered the kind of “Death By Powerpoint” that curses so many shows. I admit that I deliberately skipped the IBM keynote.

The exhibition was comparatively small, even compared to the smaller shows that I attend every year. However, the ability to lay hands on gear that I’d never seen was great. The exhibitors could also take their time in talking to interested attendees. At larger shows that’s not always possible.

I hear that some folks were less than thrilled with the location of the event. I can’t say that I was troubled by either the locale or the hotel. The room rate was not too bad, and the facility was really very nice. To some, especially those who’ve traveled a great distance, Arizona is a little like the face of the moon. Bleak and desert-like. My perspective is that I was there for a reason, and the facts of the locale simply meant that there would be limited distractions. That’s ok by me.

I think I saw more netbooks at Astricon than I’ve ever seen in any single location. Also more Apple notebooks. Apple is clearly becoming a dominant player in the developer community.

There were times when the internet access provided for the event was troublesome. Considering that just about everyone attending was toting a laptop or netbook, providing the event with wifi had to be a huge challenge. I’d say that they were about 80% successful in that effort. I was happy to see Meraki wifi mesh hardware deployed the hallways near the session rooms. I’ve been interested in Meraki hardware for a while but never encountered it in use. It’s the kind of thing that I’d like to use but I don’t quite have a justifiable application.

Perhaps one day there’ll be a session about VoWifi, and the event wifi will support that kind of application. There was no way that VoWifi was going to be successful this time around.

When the event wifi proved to be a problem I just used my Sprint 3G mifi device. In fact, I loaned it out three times over the course of the show to help out folks who needed ensured access. Yes, it’s that kind of a show. I loaned my Mifi to a complete stranger one evening so that he & his wife could do a 3G site survey at a nearby location. They were trying to prepare for another trade show a few weeks later and wondering how to ensure access. They determine that the other location does not have adequate Sprint 3G coverage, so they’d make other plans.

My sense is that the group in attendance was like one big family. I had to leave a day earlier than planned to take care of some business at home. My parting comment to event organizer John Todd was something to the effect that “I’d come to better understand their concept of the Asterisk User Community.”

Asterisk may not be my daily ride, I’d happily attend another Astricon…wherever that might be.