You know Silicon Valley companies have endured some stormy weather over the past several years when they show up in London looking for brighter skies. But that was the mood when a host of California's IT companies gathered with potential European investors and partners at the ninth annual Cal-IT Europe Forum on Monday.

Although the dot-com shakeup is behind them, California's IT companies, which arguably were at the epicenter of the quake, are still coping with lingering effects, such as a lack of confidence and investment in the industry.

"The last four years have been some of the most difficult for those in the industry," said Eric Benahamou, chairman of 3Com and PalmOne during a keynote address. "But optimism is starting to rise... a new kind of sober optimism."

Perhaps this sober optimism is why Silicon Valley startups and old hats are looking anew to Europe, where they see markets made up of more practical and cautious customers.

"European customers are more focused on return on investment, more risk averse and have a higher propensity to do lots and lots of pilots," Lee Roberts, chairman and chief executive of content management provider FileNet, said in a panel discussion focused on the buying differences between US and European customers. His colleagues on the panel agreed.

While a more conservative European buying attitude may not generate the unbridled enthusiasm that marked the dot-com heyday, many industry experts in attendance believe that a more cautious approach is better for the industry because it reduces the amount of hype around technology, and makes companies focus more on providing solid products and reliable services.

What's more, European companies are more open to trying new, foreign technologies and stick with a technology once they have invested in it, the panelists said.

"US buyers are much more promiscuous," said Allyson Stewart-Allen, director of International Marketing Partners.

But to break the European market and court its more fickle buyers, US tech companies have to show their commitment by establishing a local presence and partners, the panelists said.

"You have to have people here and a genuine investment into infrastructure," said William Archer, president of AT&T for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, who moved to Europe 10 months ago to solidify his company's presence in the region.

For companies willing to set sensible targets and make a commitment to new markets, there does appear to be reason for renewed optimism in the growth of the IT sector, industry experts said. However, another sobering element of this market turnaround is that it's not for everyone.

"This is not the case where a common tide will raise all boats," said Benhamou. He predicted that sectors such as security, storage, smart phones, the convergence of voice, data and video and wireless local area networks would drive the market.