I've just come back from CloudCamp Sydney 2010v2 and I have some mixed thoughts about the event...
The event format is an unconference.
An unconference is a facilitated, participant-driven conference centered on a theme or purpose.
Basically, the format is an effort to break away from the staid conferences of old, where the audience would fight boredom and stave off sleep by hyper-caffeinating themselves and perching uncomfortably on plastic seats. For the most part, the format worked very well.
This unconference started with lightning talks by each of the sponsors. The sponsors included NetSuite, enStratus, IBM, Quest Software, Ultra Serve, Vadis Systems (with possibly the tiniest sponsor logo ever!), gen-i, NetLeverage, and zendesk.
NetSuite were up first. As the platinum sponsor of the event, they really needed to burst out with something short, sharp, impressive, and all about NetSuite, then pass to the next person. Not just for the benefit of the attendees, but for their own benefit. As platinum sponsor they needed to get some ROI. Alas... I honestly could not tell you what NetSuite do, who they do it for, or why they do what they do. I can, however, tell you that they like the cloud, it works for them, they like to telecommute and their developers enjoy working on the beach. Surprising, I know! Sand and moving laptop parts don't usually mix well together.
The enStratus talk by Anne Bilek was refreshing. In my opinion it was the first engaging talk. The content was relevant to many of the attendees and, honestly, who doesn't hear "cloud management platform" and think "that sounds like something I need"? The audience seemed to wake up with this talk (or, at the very least, I did). Anne even managed to work in a surprise goatse reference!
Adam Ginsburg of IBM presented some interesting case studies. It was great to hear about real projects utilising cloud service providers. And with impressive cost savings, too. As I recall, some of those savings were as high as 50% of operational expenditure. This is the kind of talk that potential adopters of cloud services want and need to hear. This is the kind of talk that feeds back into the industry and generates even more interest among business owners, managers, and decision makers.
The other memorable talk was for Quest Software. They make some product called Toad. Apparently. The audience seated near me groaned/sighed a little when they heard "Toad". I don't know why. They had clearly heard of it before. I had never heard of it, but I was impressed by the slides of every different cartoonish incarnation of Toad. The Quest Software talk then turned out to be the only true tech talk of the event! It touched on traditional RDBMS, sharding, NoSQL, scaling, and more. Very entertaining. Very relevant. Very well done!
Lastly, the talk from NetLeverage was... strange. I'm still not sure what it was about, but there was definitely some passion in there. As well as some mention of caves. And community. And leaving caves. And... nope, I'm still not sure what it was about.
An Impromptu Panel Broke Out!
After the lightning talks an impromptu panel was formed using members picked from the audience. A colleague of mine, Ameer, suddenly became a panelist.
The panel was given a range of questions from the audience and then asked to select a question or topic and discuss it, with no interjection or questioning, essentially allowing each panelist to become an unconference presenter. This is the point where the event transformed from being peopled by presenters with an audience, to an equal-footing group of attendees and invitees. This worked great!
State Of Cloud In Australia
Is it just me or is the Australian technology scene still at the indecisive window-shopping stage?
I hear of CloudExpo NY and other such conferences and hear about real implementations, real challenges, details, details, details. Here, it seems we're still waiting to be convinced that this season's pink will look good on us.
A question that stood out for me: What is cloud computing?
I guess someone has to ask this question of someone at some time. And, as the old saying goes, there's no such thing as a dumb question. But, what I can't understand is how we're still at the stage where the captains of Australian industry are only now hearing inklings of cloud computing... and they're still waiting for an executive summary. How have we not moved beyond this? Why does the local Australian industry lag so much? We all have relatively equal Internet access. Are we still too locally-focussed, which, in essence, is counter to the concept of cloud computing?
The veritable army of Microsoft Azure staff of 2010v1 had reduced to 1 person. A wise move. It was a little... I don't know... daunting?... intimidating?... (something like that, anyway) to be greeted by a wall of Microsoft logos and Azure logos last time.
There was no sign at all of a Salesforce representative. Busy that day? Not cloudy enough?
Where the unconference fell down is the same place that almost all conferences fall down: the reliance on sponsors that get their pound of flesh in the form of (lightning) talks. Paid talking spots are always hit and miss.
I think something needs to be done about the lightning talks. They are first on the agenda and they set the tone for the event. They need to be more engaging and relevant. It seemed the speakers had agreed not to 'pitch' or sell to the audience. But, really, everyone knows they're sponsoring the event, they clearly have a commercial interest, and there's no need to dodge that fact. I think attendees are happy to be pitched to when that pitch involves interesting problems, interesting solutions, case studies, and passionate people talking about what they know best: their products, their challenges, their solutions. Trying to keep that in check stifles good talks.
I think the unconference format worked best when it came to breaking into discussion groups and networking and getting insight from the other attendees. In that sense it was fantastic! I had some great discussions with David Jones of Threat Metrix, Anne Bilek of enStratus, Pawel & Tim of Readify, and many others. And, of course, squeezed in a few words with Ben Kepes of Diversity Limited, who compeered (and, I think, organised) the event.
Ben Kepes did a fantastic job of keeping everyone on track, directing conversation, and organising the discussion groups. He ordered great pizza, too!
Overall, it was a worthwhile event and I will definitely go again. Improving the lightning talks would benefit all involved and would turn CloudCamp Sydney from a worthwhile event into an outstanding success. And that's what we all want.