At the Summit this year we announced that the 2010 Summit would be in Seattle again.  This will mark the third year in a row in Seattle.  We’ve been in Seattle twice in a row before but never three times.  After we complete the 2010 Summit in Seattle, half of our Summit’s will have been held in Seattle. 2010 is a launch year for SQL Server so I think it’s good we’re there.

We don’t have a contract in place year for 2011 yet but we need to finalize one soon.  A number of people have asked why we’ve been in Seattle so long and why don’t we come back to the East Coast.  I wanted to get some thoughts down on things that impact our decision and see if we can get some feedback.  We’re also planning to send out a survey and find out what’s important to potential attendees.  Please note: These thoughts are the opinion of one Board member and don’t reflect the official position of PASS.  Hopefully this will give you some insight into how we think about this issue and you’ll better understand how we make decisions like this.

Travel
The obvious benefit to being on the east coast is that that travel is reduced for people in the Eastern and Central time zones.  Travel for anyone on the east coast to Seattle is a long trek across the country.  On the return there are rarely afternoon or evening flights except red-eyes.  Switching to a Tuesday through Thursday schedule may have helped a little.  The downside of that is reduced attendance at pre-conference and post-conference sessions or the same flight challenges if you want to attend one of those sessions.  Moving to the east coast inconveniences a different set of people.  There’s certainly an argument to be made that we should inconvenience everyone equally on a somewhere regular schedule.

Microsoft Support
We enjoy fantastic support from Microsoft when the Summit is in Seattle.  I don’t know much about their budget process but I’m guessing if we hold the event in other cities that their budget won’t magically increase.  That means the same amount of money would have to include travel expenses.  I see that impacting the following activities:

  • Microsoft sends hundred’s of developers to the Summit.  These people spend time in the Ask the Experts area and answer questions about every aspect of SQL Server.  There just isn’t anywhere else that you can ask the people that wrote SQL Server itself how it works.  This is a very unique benefit of the Summit being in Seattle.  If we hold it elsewhere I’m guessing that hundred’s of developers becomes a dozen or so product or program managers. 
  • This year CSS and SQLCAT cooperated to put on the SQL Clinic.  This is a great place to talk to Microsoft’s top support engineers and the people Microsoft sends out to work on their most interesting customer engagements.  Bob Ward wrote a great post detailing the types of questions they handled in the SQL Clinic.  My guess is that this program wouldn’t be hugely impacted by a move to the east coast.  Many of the CSS engineers come in from Dallas and the SQLCAT people come in from all over the world.  It would most likely still happen but just with fewer people.
  • During the Summit Microsoft holds meeting with various groups in the SQL Server community including MVPs and Microsoft’s key customers.  There are people in the product team that just participate in these meetings and don’t stay for the rest of the Summit.  If we’re not in Seattle that becomes harder.  While that sounds like it only affects Microsoft it also affects PASS.  These meetings provide extra incentive for MVPs, key customers and other participants to attend the Summit.  These people are often speakers and volunteers and this gives them one more reason attend.  Anything that encourages our best volunteers and speakers to attend the Summit helps PASS.
  • In Seattle Microsoft delivered 50-70 sessions.  I don’t remember the exact count but you get the idea.  For the most part these were each delivered by an expert in that area.  Speakers didn’t present in multiple areas.  If we move away from Seattle we reduce the number of speakers.  That means less variety and less focus on a particular subject.

Logistics
It really takes a team to put on a conference the size of the PASS Summit.  We work with a number of vendors for everything from event production to registration.  Over the last few years we’ve really figured out what works at the convention center.  Internet access was good this year.  Keynote productions were great.  The food worked well.  Registration worked well.  All the logistics went smoothly.  We know what rooms are good to put sessions in and which rooms are better for meetings.  We’ve also learned where to spend money and where not too.  If any of you have put on local events I’m sure there are things you spent money on that you wouldn’t repeat.  We’ve got most of those figured out at the Seattle convention center.  We don’t waste money on things that don’t add value.

In a new city we’re not going to do this well.  We’re going to have logistical challenges.  We’re going to spend too much (or not enough) on food.  We may have issues with wireless.  We might not get all the rooms right.  In short, there are lots of things that *could* go wrong and some probably will.

Costs
Holding the Summit in another city increases the costs for PASS.  All the items listed in the previous section will probably cause extra money to be spent.  Our headquarters is located in Vancouver.  It’s just a few hours to drive down to Seattle.  If we move to another city that will increase travel costs.  It will also increase shipping costs.  Right now we’re able to purchase items to Vancouver and drive them down.  We lose that ability when we move to another city.  Our headquarters typically does a number of site visits to potential sites and then to the final chosen site.  In Seattle we need fewer of these visits due to the familiarity with the facility.  Plus they’re cheap to conduct due to the proximity.  This is all money we’ll spend that can’t be spent on community. 

Seattle
Seattle is a good city for our conference.  It has lots of “stuff” downtown within walking distance of the convention center.   There are plenty of hotels nearby so we can negotiate reasonable prices.  These are all things we’ll look for in other cities but might have difficulty finding.

Our choices
We have a number of different choices.

  1. Stay in Seattle for all our Summits.  This is the easiest, cheapest choice but may not be the best for all our members.  There are drawbacks to leaving Seattle.  Is the benefit of reduced travel enough to offset those?
  2. Rotate out of Seattle every 3-4 years.  Hold the majority of our Summits in Seattle but enough on the east coast to keep members happy.
  3. Hold a second, smaller event on the east coast in the spring.  This idea has been kicked around recently and has merit.  It also has drawbacks.  It bears all the increased costs and limited Microsoft support.  It would be smaller and have less networking opportunity.  It has the ability to reduce the size and impact of our main Summit.  Putting on a second event would increase the workload at HQ.  It does give people a choice on where they’d like to attend though.  The earliest we could do something like this would be 2011.

We’re going to send out a survey soon with some detailed questions around this.  Please be on the look out for this and take the time to respond to it.  If you have any thoughts you’d like to share please feel free to post them.

Bill Graziano