The alarm jarred me awake at 3:30 AM. An inhumanly early hour for me (especially for a Sunday), but necessary to make to the airport in time for my flight. Despite the early hour, I leap out of bed, excited to start the day. Today is the Big Day. Today is the day I leave for the Gartner Security and Risk Management Summit in National Harbor, Maryland.
An hour drive later I sailed through security (thank you TSA Pre-check!) and was on my plane. After an easy flight I landed at BWI, and one 40 minute Uber ride later I was there.
There is good reason Gartner has selected the Gaylord for this event. It is more than capable of handling the thousands of attendees that make their way to this summit every
year. To say that the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center is an ‘impressive facility’, is an understatement. From it’s simply enormous size, to its massive gathering spaces to its world famous Atrium, the Gaylord takes your breath away.
The check-in crowds were light on Sunday, and checking-in was painless. Got to my room in plenty of time to rest and refresh before my first sessions started that afternoon.
From then on for the next four days, it was non-stop cyber-security. My agenda was filled pretty much back-to-back over the entire summit. The number of different sessions offered was almost overwhelming. There were easily three or four different sessions going on at the same time throughout the event.
My only complaint about the venue was the food that was provided by the Gaylord. I understand they were feeding thousands of people at once, and that is no small undertaking but if you are going to serve re-constituted powdered eggs at breakfast, at least make sure there is no standing water. Gross. There were other options to chose from however, and meals were not a total loss. In fact if you didn’t like the food the Gaylord was serving to attendees, you could (and many did) patronize one of the seven different restaurants located right inside the facility.
The first of these I attended was the keynote address on Tuesday from Michael Chertoff, former director of Homeland Security.
Using a wide-ranging interview format with a Gartner VP asking question and leading the conversation, I found Mr. Chertoff’s knowledge was both deep and wide, and his perspective was quite interesting.
There was a different keynote speaker every day, and on Wednesday, it was Dr. Steve Robbins, Inclusion Expert who gave a fascinating talk about diversity and inclusion, the difference between the two, and how you must have BOTH in the workplace. Plus some great stuff about how the brain works and reacts to being excluded.
Did you know that when a person is excluded, the exact same pain centers in the brain are activated as when a person feels physical pain? On an MRI they are indistinguishable. Can you focus on your work when you are in physical pain? Of course not. Our workplaces must be both diverse, AND inclusive. Good stuff.
I won’t take you through the list of every session I attended, but there were a couple of highlights that are worth mentioning.
The sheer choice of different sessions offered was frankly mind-boggling. Often there were two, or even three sessions occurring simultaneously. And of course, they covered the full width depth and breadth of the cyber-security universe. I went to sessions on network security, on perimeter-less identity-driven environments, on cloud architecture and security, on managing risk, securing endpoints, identity and access management, application security, and on and on and on it went.
I will say that the information provided was overall quite good. I found that from every session there were at least a couple of good nuggets that could be taken away and used again later. That for me is the true measure of benefit for these types of events. Did I learn anything that I might actually take back to my job and use? At a Gartner event, this happens quite often.
The Exhibit Showcase
This is an area that is often considered just a side-show to attendees. A vendor circus of cool swag, and cute girls there to lure you in, but nothing that a serious cyber-security professional would waste their time on. Don’t dismiss it so easily!
Sure, there are cute girls to lure you in, and yes, the swag can sometimes be kind of cool, but look a little deeper. As I walked around the Exhibit floor, I kept a running list of the projects and initiatives that are on the hot-list at work. What are the things that we are struggling with right now? Then if I walked past a vendor offering a supposedly great solution for one of those very challenges, I would stop and have a conversation. I was introduced to some great products, and a few of them might actually find their way into our toolbox. Win-win.
The one-on-one meetings with Gartner analysts that were available at the summit struck me a bit like speed dating. Over fifty little rooms set up with fifty little round conference tables, where you could sit for 30 minutes and pick the brains of an analyst that had been matched up to you based on your area of interest.
I will say Gartner batted about 500 in this area. I had two of these one-on-one sessions scheduled during my time at the summit. One of them was quite helpful, with an analyst who had both knowledge and experience in my particular area of interest. The second session however found me in a tiny room, sitting at a tiny table with an analyst who stated right up front that he was ‘not right for me’ because he lacked the specific expertise I was looking for. Such is the way with speed dating.
In case you had not guessed, this was my first time at the Gartner Security and Risk Management Summit. This was also the largest cyber-security event that I have ever attended, by a country mile. All in all I was duly impressed. Not just with the content of the sessions – almost all of which I found valuable – but in the organization of the entire event.
Gartner did a fantastic job taking over the Garylord Resort for the week. Their staff seemed to be everywhere, so there was always a friendly rep. nearby if you had questions. And tons of signage everywhere. If you didn’t know any better, you would have thought you were at the Gartner Resort, there were also helpful informational signs and maps everywhere to help you find your way around. There was even a Gartner Event app you could download with all kinds of extra useful information and session content you could download, etc.
All in all, I would say that a trip to the Gartner Security and Risk Management Summit is well worth the price of admission, and I for one cannot wait until next year!