We’re just back from this year’s RSA conference in San Francisco and wanted to share our immediate thoughts on what was a great , thought-provoking event again this year.

One thing that comes to mind immediately is scale. Attendance at the 2017 event was a record 43,000 people, and there is very little doubt that the record will be broken again this year with a projected 50,000 registrants. Whilst that reflects well on the both the conference itself and the security industry in general, it does lead to some important questions.

When does a conference become too big? I think RSA is getting close to that point for a number of reasons:

From a practical perspective there is a point where it becomes both difficult and expensive to get to a conference. Hotel rooms are very expensive during the week to the point where people will increasingly look at the overall cost of attendance. As the attendances increase, that problem only becomes worse. There were rumours this year that Las Vegas is being considered as a future venue, I assume to address this issue.

With the conference at the size it is now, regular attendees over the years will have seen a change. Is it less technically focussed? More based around large corporations? Does it reflect changes in the security industry itself over recent years? I’m sure the organisers are wrestling with these and other questions.

Is it mainly a vendor fest, at the expense of insight and education? It’s a good question. If I was a CISO with a shopping list, I would probably have come away confused and frustrated. Why? Well, I found differentiating between offerings quite difficult. No particular theme stood out for me. Claims around AI seemed to be fairly standard, and everybody secures the cloud. Established companies have very impressive stands, but so did some that were new to me. It may be an impressive marketing approach based on VC funds, but very confusing for the average buyer. It is also becoming increasingly difficult to find the truly innovative companies amongst the marketing hype.

From a Burning Tree perspective we see the value that we add as helping our clients see through the fog of the Vendor Fest. We spend a lot of time examining the market and establishing long term relationships with the type of partners we believe are both innovative and good value. To that end we had some great discussions with our existing partners, as well as discovering new ones. Watch our partner page for exciting updates over the coming weeks.

Overall, despite some issues starting to arise due to the growing popularity of the RSA 2018 conference, the event proved to still be a very engaging and valuable week for Burning Tree. We’re already looking forward to attending in 2019, and potential changes to the conference format.