The first transnational lockdown 2020 came as a surprise to everyone and was implemented at short notice. In the days and weeks that followed, concepts were developed, technical equipment for working at home was purchased, a lot of improvisation was done, and as much as possible was digitized.
The event area was one of the first to quickly develop virtual alternatives to the cancelled on-site events. Meetups became virtual meetings. Many companies quickly offered webinars on all sorts of topics, which offered the advantage of being able to be attended live, but also available and retrievable online afterwards.
The offers were also well received, because that was and still is the only way to talk and see each other with a larger crowd of like-minded people about the challenges, technical possibilities, difficulties, digitization, but also latest developments, customer acquisition, existence and interest.
Even large events were quickly transformed into virtual ones. The first one I attended was NetApp Insight in April 2020.
6 weeks after the lockdown and closed borders, NetApp was already ready to hold the Insight virtually.(1) Even this first event showed that there are more participants virtually than at on-site events. Here were 7000 attendees who came from all over the world. This sometimes led to interruptions in the transmission because the system was not (yet) set up for these quantities. Even this first event showed the mix of virtual possibilities that would be perfected over the year: some sessions were pre-recorded and unlocked at the time the session was on the program and were available from then on. The keynotes, however, were live, which became a real challenge for NetApp CEO George Kurian because the event was in European time, but he was in California. Videos were included in the live sessions, but that would also have been done on-site. Attendees could communicate via chats or even rate short presentations and participate in workshops. A total of 90 sessions were available, which could still be accessed over the next few weeks.
NetApp Insight overview
NetApp had just under 6 weeks to implement the digital event, and the implementation was very good, and the fact that the connection broke down in between because too many participants wanted to log in is actually a good sign.
Just a few days later, the RedHat Summit was held in April 2020. That, too, was implemented in no time at all: Meet you where you are. From here, anywhere. The Summit was two days long and also a mix of keynotes, content sessions, workshops, sponsor notes. The keynotes were live, as were some of the sessions, and attendees were able to participate via chats. Those who missed something live could watch the videos on-demand for a few more weeks. As you would expect, there were embedded videos in the keynotes as well. Since the Summit took place at American times, I was sitting in my comfortable chair in Central Europe, it was getting dark outside, and was entertained by the emotional videos like in the cinema.(2)
RedHat Summit overview
But the main message of the Summit was Redhat’s approach to open hybrid cloud: Open in the mean of open source as the collection of best ideas, the collaboration of communities brings the best results and is the foundation of every innovation. Hybrid brings the power of choice and open infrastructure; in hybrid cloud computing RedHat sees the future of virtualization and a new kind of data centers, 30% of customers use hybrid cloud environments, but that will increase during the next months and years. Cloud itself with the power of cloud-native opens freedom of anywhere: where and what is right for business. And all together it is the open hybrid cloud. During the Summit one piece of hybrid cloud was in focus: edge cloud computing.
The lockdown was still relatively fresh, many companies, especially in Germany, were having massive problems adapting to home offices and digital communication, no one knew how the pandemic would develop, and no one suspected that a year later we still wouldn’t know more. Anyway, it felt good for me to get together virtually with several thousand people around the world and hear about what RedHat’s digital world has to offer.
But this second big event for me showed even more that virtual events should not be measured by the standards of on-site events. Except for the chat feature, attendees were left with only listening as a participation option. Also, other than the sponsor notes, there was no way to contact sponsors. I registered that, but still it has to be very much acknowledged that the Summit took place only 7 weeks after the lockdown, ran stably, all sessions were unlocked on time and were available then. And the live notes were as expected entertaining and informative at the same time.
A month later at the 20th of May the SUSECON started also as a virtual event which lasted three weeks with several sessions, workshops, hands-ons, … all at all over 160 sessions. With The Power of Many as the title of the event, SUSE addressed several aspects at once, on the one hand of course SUSE as an open source company, but also SUSECON as a meeting place for many. Talking about innovations, learning what is possible in order to shape the future, that’s what conferences are always for.(3)
The main message of the SUSECON was then also: Simplify – Modernize – Accelerate:
For me as a participant, however, SUSECON brought some novelties in the virtual event area. The participants were offered a lot of interaction possibilities, you could not only write in chats during the sessions, but there were also chat rooms for participants completely independent of sessions, there were even currently active participants with similar interests displayed, with whom you could link up. There were break rooms where you could watch videos or play games. And for the first time, there was a sponsor area where you could connect with sponsors. You were no longer just a listener but could “be there” in a different way. This could not and cannot replace the personal meeting, but it was definitely a step in the right direction, because we all have the need for communication and contact.
KubeCon & CloudNativeCon Europe and America
I enjoyed KubeCons &CloudNativeCons in two roles, one as an attendee, the other as a media partner with my own booth. The KubeCons themselves also represented a different kind of event, the Summits and Cons so far were each hosted by a company whose products, content, customers and partners were the focus. The KubeCons are organized by the open source foundation CNCF, so the focus was on everything cloud-native, CNCF members, the individual projects and their development, users, communities, the mindset behind it. The program was just as diverse with deep-dive sessions, introductory talks, information from the Foundation about the latest and established projects with maintainer meeting sessions, new appointments… KubeCon America was unfortunately overshadowed by the death of Dan Kohn(4), who was executive director of CNCF for many years and contributed many ideas, not at least the CloudNative Landscape: https://landscape.cncf.io/ which was presented at KubeCon America.
the cloud report´s media booth at the KubeCons & CloudNative Cons
Since the community and the joint projects were the focus, a lot of emphasis was placed on communication and shared experience, there were networking areas, space for exchanging experiences and, of course, games. Evening entertainment was also provided.
Evening entertainment at the KubeCon
The keynotes and sessions of the CNCF were all live, presenters and speakers greeted each other from their home offices, there were glitches, sound problems, the longer the KubeCon lasted the more tired my eyes became, but that didn’t stop me at all. I sat right in front of the screen and liked the fact that I really wasn’t alone, my comments were actually read promptly by the presenters as well. All in all, this was a really likeable feature of both events and in retrospect made me doubt the impersonal perfectionism of the SUSECON keynotes, yes, every camera angle was right, the lighting was perfect, sound and speech were flawless, the videos were cut to the point, but personally the KubeCons keynotes appealed to me more, I had much more of a feeling of being there and in a virtual community. However, the target groups of the two events are very different, so both certainly have a justification.
Theater where the keynotes happened
The talks were also pre-recorded so that no technical difficulties could interfere. However, the speakers were connected live at the times in the schedule and could be reached directly after the talk via video chat and were open for all questions.
In the sponsor area all sponsors had their own booth with different possibilities, you could show videos, provide texts, info material, you could chat in live chat or in private chat. If you agreed, the sponsor was shown who was at the booth, so you could get in touch directly. Again, the focus was on communication.
You have to admit that the first KubeCon was held in August, so they had significantly more time to create, test and offer virtual capabilities. The technical standards have changed from month to month over the last year, expected, new apps and tools were added, so there could really be a sense of “I’m in” and “I’m part of the community” at KubeCons.
The next major conference was HashiConf in October.(5) This was again a company event where everything revolved around HashiCorp. News, announcements, but also users, customers, partners were in the focus.
During the two days the Zero Trust approach of HashiCorp was presented with the new open source project Boundary, which was happily accepted and discussed by the community.
Zero Trust approach by HashiCorp
My personal highlight of the event was the live moderation! Two days of good humor, funny t-shirts, good comments, tweets and a rounding up the individual sessions. The attendee was encouraged to listen except in chats, but it was still an informative and entertaining event.
Open Infrastructure Summit
The first day was unfortunately overshadowed by technical problems, many of the pages and event areas were not accessible or the participants could not log in. This was fortunately solved on the second day, so that the opening keynote could take place as planned.(6)
The Summit was a celebratory event this year. 10 years of OpenStack resulted in the establishment of the Open Infrastructure Foundation, which was announced at the Summit.(7) Over the last years projects joined the OpenStack Foundation which are working on infrastructure but not only with or within OpenStack like: Airship, Kata Containers, OpenInfra Labs, StarlingX and Zuul. However, they share the interest and mindset of developing and providing open source infrastructure tools, so it is logical that they come together to form a new Foundation.
The Summit had been renamed a long time ago and it was also in this virtual version a gathering of all open source infrastructure projects, especially of course OpenStack. The communication options were not as diverse as at the KubeCons, but you could always chat along as an attendee and interact with the sponsors in the sponsor area. The sessions were as diverse as the community and projects, project news, hands-on, beginner to pro level, but you could also see user stories with all kinds of solutions to problems.
Overview first virtual Open Infrastructure Summit
Again, the keynotes were live with embedded videos. Just the chaos on the first day and the excitement of the announcement made the first keynote human and likeable, the speakers Jonathan Bryce and Mark Collier looked so excited and tired at the same time, it was fun to be there.
After the initial difficulties, it was a very entertaining and somehow celebratory Summit and all the sessions of the first day were held on the last day, so no one had to miss anything, and all the speakers came into their own.
Cloud Foundry Summit
The Cloud Foundry Summit was held at the same time as the Open Infrastructure Summit. This has been the case for the last few years, so you had to make the decision: do I want IaaS or PaaS? Last year, that decision was easy, being just a browser window away. Which still didn’t make it any less stressful, because I wanted to do justice to both events.
The Cloud Foundry Summit was organized differently than the previous community events. The organizer was of course the Cloud Foundry Foundation, but I had the feeling from the start that they were holding back in favor of the community, contributors, users and of course the Cloud Foundry driving companies. The keynotes were appropriately short and more informative than entertaining, giving room for the sessions. The ones I attended were great again! As with all community events, Cloud Foundry again brought together people who want to work together on ideas to advance them, improve them, make them bigger. So much technical knowledge and passion for the common project gathers at open source communities that it’s always a pleasure to be a part of it. And again, there was something for everyone, beginner level, what is and can Cloud Foundry do? All the way to highly technical advanced sessions. But of course, users also shared their experiences with Cloud Foundry. Since the project is very much driven by operating and using companies, the sponsors as the largest contributors naturally also had a space for themselves, but also had their space in sessions and panels. But also the physical well-being was taken care of, not in the form of food, but in the form of stretching exercises during the breaks, which was a real relief after sitting in front of the computer for so long.
Introducing Cloud Foundry
By now, we are used to communicate, learn, inform ourselves virtually. Virtual events also have the advantage of not requiring travel time and expenses. I prepare drinks and snacks, make myself comfortable and attend an event hosted on another continent, whose participants (may) come from all continents.
I sink into the sessions and at some point wonder that yes, I am still at home. I don’t take enough breaks, if they are not dedicatedly planned by the organizer. And even then I answer mails or something. Depending on how long the event is scheduled for, my back or even my butt hurts at some point….
Since you don’t leave your own time zone, some time shifts are also a challenge, both for the speakers tuning in live and for the participants from all over. This makes it even harder to concentrate in front of the screen at times….
But still, I’m glad that these diverse events exist, that so many people can be reached and also inspired virtually. Even when you’re not working, you can pick out interesting topics and take a look at them, especially since all the content remains available for a certain period of time. Even if you no longer have the opportunity to ask questions directly or talk to the speakers.
These events are currently the best way to talk about important topics, to present new developments or products, and to showcase yourself to the community or the market.
There are now an incredible number of virtual communication options. I have found that I much prefer events that are actually live, when the speakers, moderators, presenters are there at the specified time and speak when I see them as they are. Virtually they actually seem to be more relaxed than on stages, but that is perhaps understandable because they stay in their familiar environment. I like it more when there are little slips of the tongue, when technical difficulties are fixed live, when there are visits from the pets. For me, that’s personal, engaging, interesting and really live. That the content talks are pre-recorded I can understand though, live demos just never work….
Virtual events are performed at home
I’ve been to events hosted from the Americas, from Europe, from the Far East over the past year. Virtually, the world has moved closer together. We communicate across oceans as a matter of course; America is just a video meeting away. We are now benefiting in this crisis from the enormous effort that has been made with the internet in recent decades. Even though it is still in its infancy, the digitization of the world has already advanced so that I can sit in front of the screen and listen to a speaker waving good morning to me from California.
Of course, I’m very much looking forward to attend on-site events again, getting in front of people, talking to them, chatting, learning from them, wandering through sponsor exhibits and finding inspiration, listening to talks, waiting in coffee lines and learning new things along the way.
Nonetheless, I am grateful for the efforts and successes of the virtual events. Thank you to the hosts, organizers, speakers, sponsors, ….
I am looking forward to a new event year, which has even already started with Cloud Expo!(8)
- All Highlights here: https://superuser.openstack.org/articles/virtual-open-infrastructure-summit-recap/
Editor in chief of the cloud report