We recently held the first Operators Midcycle to be hosted in Europe, with 120 attendees from all across Europe, the United States, Asia and Australia coming together in Manchester, UK to discuss all aspects of running an OpenStack cloud and participating in the global Operators community.
From a post on the operators mailing list three months ago, the event grew from what we thought might be a small 20-30 person affair, through to being the official Ops Midcycle, a two-day packed schedule, and sold out with a capacity attendance from all over the world. We could probably have sold 200 tickets, but in the end we had to balance a number of factors, including the overall cost of the event which would need to be raised in sponsorship, and trying to create an atmosphere where people could really engage with each other. In the end the numbers felt just right, people got to know each other, and the sessions were of a size where it was comfortable to contribute. The wide spectrum of the operator community was really well represented with academic research, government, broadcast media, public cloud, developers and vendors all in attendance.
We really had a couple of goals in mind when we started thinking about this event.
Firstly, that there were things going on across Europe in OpenStack that were pretty unique to the landscape here, and that introduces a different viewpoint to the conversation around where OpenStack is going.
In Europe data sovereignty concerns have meant that there is a growing trend towards regionalized cloud provision, with OpenStack public cloud operators springing up in almost every European country. We are also seeing a trend in the public sector to prefer OpenStack-based solutions, for reasons of interoperability and reducing vendor lock-in. The event turned out to be timed pretty well in this respect, with Cloud Team Alliance’s tender win to supply the European Union with OpenStack based infrastructure-as-a-service (IAAS,) and DataCentred’s work with HMRC in the United Kingdom hosting the UK government tax platform both hitting the newsstands just before we started.
Roses are red
my wife's patience stops
'cause on valentine's day
I flew to #openstack ops
— Kalle Happonen (@KalleHapponen) February 14, 2016
OpenStack is also growing very rapidly in the academic and research community across Europe and here the ideas behind federation and interoperability are really powerful, as scientific organizations realize that they can’t build enough capacity for their researchers and are looking for new standards to be able to work together.
Secondly, and more importantly, it was also becoming clear to me as I met operators from around Europe over the last couple of years that there was a growing number of them who weren’t really engaged with the wider operators community, and who weren’t really participating upstream. The reasons behind this aren’t entirely clear, perhaps some of it is language or cultural barriers, perhaps as with all open source projects that achieve massive growth, users start to come in with different perspectives and backgrounds from the early adopters. We really wanted to get these people engaged in the community, realizing the benefits that brings to them, and so their unique viewpoints are represented.
— Nate Ziemann (@nate_zman) February 16, 2016
One of the interesting things that came out of our wrap-up feedback session was that around 30 percent of the participants weren’t subscribed to the OpenStack operators list and some of them didn’t know it existed. Pretty miraculous that those folks managed to find us at all given that these events are only generally publicized on the ops-list! There had been chains of forwarded emails, posts onto meetup.com and various other roundabout mechanisms to bring everyone there on the day. At least for the folks who attended, they now know about the communication mechanisms the community uses and we’ve gathered some useful data points for the future.
Loving the #OpenStack ops meetup format. At most conferences you listen to the person on stage for 40 mins, at this one they listen to you.
— Sean H (@code_sean) February 15, 2016
Prior to the event, there had been a lot of discussion on the ops-list, and a little bit of controversy, about not having a United States-based Mid-Cycle, but in the end that decision helped us enormously. Having other operators here from around the world was not only a massive help from a logistical perspective, being able to draw on really experienced moderators, but most importantly I think everyone attending who hadn’t been to this kind of event before took away with them that they were now part of a global community that they could engage with, get involved with and contribute to. Whilst there’s definitely value in having regional Meetups, the benefits of having folks from around the world in one room at the same time can’t be beaten.
So with both of those things in mind, we really tried to get the schedule to reflect this stuff, as well as giving people the opportunity to discuss specific technical issues around OpenStack. We knew the format would be new to a lot of attendees and that we’d need to work hard to get people engaged in the process, and not just be expecting a bunch of slide based presentations. The community really came into its own here, and we had a fantastic set of volunteer moderators come forward to help us. By mixing up new moderators with the more experienced folks from the community, we managed to get people feeling comfortable contributing right from the start.
Kicking off the first day with Tom Fifield from the OpenStack Foundation talking about the history of the Ops Meetups and what they are about, we then had a great session on engaging with the community, expertly moderated by Jesse Pretorius. These two sessions really set the tone for the whole event, and from then on we were off to the races. I’m not going to go through every session, you can see the schedule and the Etherpads online, but I think we covered a really wide range of technical and community related topics.
Having participation from the developer community was also massively useful, [John Garbutt] Nova project team lead (PTL) in particular was in high demand in all the sessions he participated in, and a fantastic opportunity for folks to understand more about how development works in the core projects, and to have some input into the development process.
— Belmiro Moreira (@belmiromoreira) February 15, 2016
As usual, the hallway (and pub) tracks were at least as useful as the organized sessions, I definitely made some great new friends and it was fantastic to see conversations late into the night between people who didn’t know each other before. Another take away from the feedback sessions was the request for more free form time to chat and discuss outside of formal sessions, and that’s something I definitely think is very important.
So did we achieve what we wanted to from the event? I certainly think so, and judging from the feedback Etherpad, so did the attendees. We introduced a whole new set of people into the operators community, who will now hopefully continue to contribute, get involved with the community and spread the word amongst their peers.
As a group, we also raised the awareness of what’s going on across Europe with OpenStack, and hopefully some of that was new to those who traveled from further afield. Ideas about collaboration and co-operation are very powerful in the European psyche, this is really at the heart of what it is to be European in the 21st century, and I think this event, and the OpenStack community as a whole, couldn’t be a better reflection of that.
— Jesse P (@odyssey4me) February 16, 2016
We’ll definitely be looking to make these events a more regular occurrence in Europe, and some of our sponsors have already indicated their ongoing support. As I’ve noted earlier in this blog, we believe there’s significant value in having a global attendance at the mid cycles, so finding a way where we can move these events around the different regions in the future is definitely something I’d like to see. On top of that we now have significant interest in Europe for having ongoing regionally focused events as well.
I know there’s currently a lot of thinking going on at the Foundation for how to structure the organization process of operators meetups, so watch this space!
Photos: Mike Perez