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RSA Conference 2015 recap: Record attendance, record stakes

This year's RSA Conference once again broke the previous year's attendance record. Is the show getting too big for San Francisco? Plus key takeaways and final words from our executive editor.

RSA Conference announced this week that its 26th annual event set a new attendance record.

In a press release, conference organizers announced that a record 33,000 attendees gathered at the show, which featured 290 sessions and 700 speakers.

"RSA Conference has been growing year-over-year, with each U.S. event seeing more attendees than ever before, and RSA Conference 2015 was no exception," said Linda Gray, General Manager of RSA Conference, in the statement. "If that's not a testament to the passion we have as an industry -- and the caliber of the event we run -- I'm not sure what is!"

The record attendance is no surprise, given the increase in high-profile data breaches that has captures the attention of the business community -- if not the entire western world.

And while last year's event, attended by a then-record 30,000 people, felt crowded, this year's show topped that -- hallways were packed in between sessions, sitting areas and power outlets were perpetually tough to come by, and anyone who wasn't at the big keynotes and high-profile sessions at least 10-15 minutes early likely didn't get in.

This begs a question: How long can RSA Conference continue to fit inside Moscone Center? Is it outgrowing its longtime venue?

Despite the increasing crowds of recent years, RSA Conference is hardly the biggest event Moscone has handled. In fact, far from it: MacWorld attendance during the Steve Jobs heyday of the late 2000s pulled in roughly 45,000 Apple enthusiasts, and last year's Oracle OpenWorld boasted a staggering 60,000 attendees.

SearchSecurity spoke to a Moscone representative who said that it's unclear whether RSA Conference could grow to that size; capacity for each conference depends heavily on the convention hall layouts employed by conference organizers. Plus, OpenWorld relies not only on its use of space at Moscone, but also several nearby hotels.

RSA Conference announced this week that its 26th annual event set a new attendance record.

In a press release, conference organizers announced that a record 33,000 attendees gathered at the show, which featured 290 sessions and 700 speakers.

"RSA Conference has been growing year over year, with each U.S. event seeing more attendees than ever before, and RSA Conference 2015 was no exception," said Linda Gray, general manager of RSA Conference, in the statement. "If that's not a testament to the passion we have as an industry -- and the caliber of the event we run -- I'm not sure what is."

The record attendance is no surprise, given the increase in high-profile data breaches that have captured the attention of the business community -- if not the entire western world.

And while last year's event, attended by a then-record 30,000 people, felt crowded, this year's show topped that -- hallways were packed in between sessions, sitting areas and power outlets were perpetually tough to come by, and anyone who wasn't at the big keynotes and high-profile sessions at least 10 to 15 minutes early likely didn't get in.

This begs a question: How long can the RSA Conference continue to fit inside the Moscone Center? Is it outgrowing its longtime venue?

Despite the increasing crowds of recent years, RSA Conference is hardly the biggest event Moscone has handled. In fact, far from it: MacWorld attendance during the Steve Jobs heyday of the late 2000s pulled in roughly 45,000 Apple enthusiasts, and last year's Oracle OpenWorld boasted a staggering 60,000 attendees.

SearchSecurity spoke to a Moscone representative who said that it's unclear whether RSA Conference could grow to that size; capacity for each conference depends heavily on the convention hall layouts employed by conference organizers. Plus, OpenWorld relies not only on its use of space at Moscone, but also several nearby hotels.

Still, it's a problem that may be alleviated in the near future, as a major Moscone center renovation and expansion is about to get underway. The $500 million project, set to take place during the next three years, will add more than 300,000 sq. ft. of exhibition and meeting area, about 40% more functional space over what the venue offers today.

However, Moscone will remain open for business during the construction, meaning RSA Conference 2016, already announced for Feb. 25 - Mar. 4, may be an even more tightly compacted affair.

RSA Conference 2015 trends and takeaways

Despite the size and diverse audience at this year's show, the clear theme at RSA Conference 2015 was that it is now finally enterprise information security's time to shine.

As discussed in one panel last week, C-level executives are finally paying attention to information security, and that means unparalleled opportunity to make the case for new budget, staff and resources, develop new relationships with key stakeholders, and perhaps even influence how organizations operate.

It's an exciting time, and a stressful time, as while infosec teams once toiled away in anonymity, the spotlight is now large and bright, meaning the stakes are higher than ever.

Other notes:

  • As those who follow me on Twitter already know, I wasn't particularly impressed with this year's opening keynote speeches. New RSA President Amit Yoran offered a frank and reasoned argument for dramatic new approaches in enterprise information security, but it was mostly a "Stay tuned!" message, as he teased what appears to be a dramatic remaking of EMC Corp.'s security division. Plus failing to recognize former RSA President Art Coviello -- who amid the NSA/ECC controversy single-handedly saved his company's bacon in a masterful RSA Conference 2014 keynote -- was a huge oversight. And while Microsoft's Scott Charney scored points by advocating the growing importance of cloud computing transparency, his talk was at best uninspired, and at worst an abdication of industry leadership that the industry needs.
  • Yes, there was some discussion of Internet of Things security and the slow-and-steady growing risk it poses to enterprises, but to me the No. 1 technology topic this year was threat intelligence. An increasing number of organizations are wading into the nascent realm of threat intel feeds and automated response capabilities, and those enterprises have already been advancing their programs despite the cost and complexity. It's clearly among the hottest infosec trends to watch going forward.
  • While I think it's still a ways from having an impact in the majority of large enterprises, the emergence of DevOps as a security tactic to improve software security and resilience is now impossible to ignore. Perhaps the best aspect for infosec pros is an opportunity to get closer to the software development processes and people powering them; as most of our readers know, effective security management often hinges on influence.

Finally, it's a bittersweet moment for me as this will be my last article as an editor for SearchSecurity; I'm leaving to pursue a new career opportunity. I want to acknowledge the many thousands of loyal readers and followers who have been with us for many years. Our growth and success is all thanks to you.

Next Steps

At RSA Conference 2015, a panel discussed how to develop effective insider threat prevention programs.

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Is RSA Conference growing too large? Should it be moved to a new venue?
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I think the increased interest in security is a good thing, so I'm not sure RSA is too large. But it might make sense to move it around to some other venues, or maybe have multiple events per year. 
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