With the live events schedule disrupted by the Coronavirus, organizers are pivoting to online delivery of conference content and hoping to bring new energy to online B2B events.
The data center industry’s first major foray into virtual conferences will be DCD>New York. The live conference content planned for March 31-April 2 will shift to DCD’s online webinar platform, with the physical conference being postponed to Sept. 1-2. A record audience of close to 2,000 delegates was expected.
The Open Compute Project is also planning a major virtual event to replace its annual global summit, which was canceled earlier in March.
The need for social distancing to combat the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) has been a heavy blow for the conference sector, leading to the cancellation or postponement of hundreds of conferences, including most leading events for the data center and cloud computing industry.
Concerns about conferences as a vector for coronavirus were underscored by a recent Boston-area conference hosted by Biogen, which has been tied to nearly 80 cases in Massachusetts and subsequent cases in six other states. The CDC now recommends that in-person events of more than 50 people in the U.S. be canceled for the next 8 weeks, creating an extended time frame in which physical conferences will be untenable.
The cancellations have shifted the focus to virtual conferences, with some organizers hoping to improve on the current offerings, typically webinar-style presentations with interactivity features.
DCD Plans ‘Mother of All Virtual Events’
DCD says its online DCD>New York event will be the largest virtual conference of its kind for the data center industry, consisting of 24 free-to-view webinars between March 31 and April 2 to enable a global audience to access expert industry knowledge. Virtual delegates will be able to participate in live Q&A, audience polls and presentations.
“The DatacenterDynamics team, as always, has pulled together and we’re going to put on ‘the mother’ of all virtual conferences,” DCD co-founder and CEO George Rockett said on LinkedIn.
“Although it is disappointing to have to postpone our flagship event, the safety of our sponsors, speakers, exhibitors, attendees and staff remains paramount,” said Ben Agnew, MD Europe & North America at DatacenterDynamics. “With great support from the New York Marriott Marquis we’ve been able to find a new date to put on our 18th annual event.
“We felt a fitting response to the first pandemic of the information age would be to leverage new digital platforms to deliver a virtual conference program,” Agnew added. “Despite the restrictions that COVID-19 is putting on people’s ability to travel, the industry still needs access to a credible thought leadership platform.”
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DCD’s experience in virtual events includes the 2017 DCD>New York event, which was held in the middle of a blizzard that dropped 10 inches of snow on Manhattan on the morning of the conference.
The event went on as scheduled at the Marriott Marquis, but DCD also offered video feeds of plenary sessions for delegates who couldn’t make it to the venue.
“Despite the restrictions that COVID-19 is putting on people’s ability to travel, the industry still needs access to a credible thought leadership platform.”
Ben Agnew, DCD
Meanwhile, all existing delegates registrations have been automatically transferred across to the new dates in September.
Open Compute Retools
The Open Compute Summit is the largest annual event for the open hardware community, bringing together thousands of executives, engineers, developers and suppliers. The 2020 event was scheduled to take place March 4-5 at the San Jose Convention Center, but was canceled on March 2 when Santa Clara County reported an outbreak of Coronavirus cases.
The format has shifted to an interactive Virtual Global Summit the week of May 11. “A lot of work has been done in preparation for this event, including important product rollouts, company announcements, and innovations from our member companies,” the Summit organizers wrote.
The OCP organizers promise “a rich, interactive experience that can be accessed from anywhere in the world, that incorporates all the key components of our Global Summit, including keynote sessions, executive tracks, an Expo Hall with Expo Hall talks, Engineering Workshops, the OCP Experience Center and the OCP Future Technologies Symposium.” The organizers said the virtual event will feature functionality for Q&A, panel discussions, live chat, and one-on-one meetings.
Making Virtual Events Better?
The Coronavirus presents a challenge to the events industry, as online platforms are fine for delivering video content, but lack the one-on-one networking that is coveted by attendees. This is also a huge challenge for sponsors, who see the conference expo floor as an opportunity to meet prospects and generate leads.
Expo hall booths are especially important for sponsors looking to demonstrate hardware and software, providing a hands-on experience that goes beyond virtual demos. Many companies also use major conferences to sponsor parties and dinners that can’t be replicated digitally.
Conference cancellations due to the Coronavirus have already proven expensive for the largest IT events firms. Gartner has cancelled or postponed multiple events, including the Gartner Data & Analytics Summit in London and the Gartner Data & Analytics Summit in Texas, as well as some other smaller conferences. The company disclosed that the financial impact of the cancellations will be $36 million.
The cancellations are costly for exhibitors as well. Companies who sponsored the Open Compute Project Summit will be included in the virtual OCP event. If they opt out, the refund is projected to be 13 percent of their original investment.
Data Center World
A number of other conference organizers have decided to shift events to a later date. Some prominent examples:
- Informa said it would postpone Data Center World after the city of San Antonio declared a state of emergency over Coronavirus concerns. The event was scheduled to begin on Monday, March 16 and run for four days. “After close consultation with our partners in the data center industry, we’ve made the difficult decision to reschedule Data Center World to August 24-27, 2020,” the organizers said. Informa said it has automatically transferred registrations to the new dates in August to help ensure a seamless transition.
- Structure Research has postponed its flagship infra/STRUCTURE Summit in Toronto. The event was scheduled for May 6-7, but has now been tentatively rescheduled for Nov. 17-18. “We are hopeful that the new date will allow for time for the virus to be contained and normal business operations will resume,” Structure said.
- CAPRE Media has moved its Greater Chicago Data Center & Cloud Infrastructure Summit from March 17 to June 11.