OpenStack Day Seattle 2015 – from Inception to Reality

OPENSTACK_Seattle_C[Cross posted from www.OpenStackSeattle.com]

Thank you for supporting us in making this event successful! This blog post walks through the entire process of making it happen, along with some interesting feedback. Though many had credited me (Sriram) for pulling this off ‘single-handedly’, you will see that it is not just one person behind this. All credit goes to the OpenStack community.

Inception

With two largest public cloud service providers, Seattle is the home of cloud computing. Seattle’s contribution to OpenStack is also significant with two major OpenStack players (Blue Box and HP, Seattle), a major IT Automation provider (Chef) and few startups offering OpenStack based solutions being present here. There are also handful of OpenStack customers such as Big Fish Games, Concur and more from this region. With such an OpenStack presence, it was only matter of time we had an OpenStack conference in our cloudy city.

Thanks to the Blue Box team, OpenStack Seattle Meetups have become regular in the past year and are well attended. With success of the monthly meetups and inspiration from OpenStack Silicon Valley, I wanted to bring the first OpenStack Day conference to Seattle.

Very early conversations happened around this time last year, and Lauren Sell from OpenStack Foundation was right away supportive. With lots of OpenStack related events happening consequently (OpenStack SV, Operators Mid Cycle meetup, OpenStack Summit Paris and more), finding a suitable timing for OpenStack Day Seattle was a challenge.

I also pulled in a small team to help me with the logistics around this time. With support from the community flowing in from that time, it was essentially ‘us’ not ‘me’ from then.

Goals

  1. To raise awareness on OpenStack in Seattle
  2. Encourage more participation from women & minority in OpenStack events. Towards that, we offered Diversity and Student scholarships (and we were the first ones to do so among all such OpenStack Day events)
  3. Provide more visibility to OpenStack Startups. We provided the sponsoring startups same level of visibility and promotion as larger sponsors.

We also wanted to keep the entry fee minimal, more so to discourage no-shows than to provide us any profit.

Logistics

Our key challenges were getting in OpenStack experts in town and arriving at the right attendee count for the event. Since this was the first time such an even happening in Seattle, we scaled down from 300 to 150 attendees. We also decided to co-locate with LinuxCon to leverage speakers already in town attending the same. In hindsight, that was the right decision. However, with oversold tickets and 30+ waitlisted attendees, we could have planned for 250 or more attendees.

We started working with the Linux Foundation since end of January this year. Once we locked down the date to the week of Aug 17 – 21, it was just a matter of finding right venue. We chose Washington Athletic Club due to its proximity to the LinuxCon event venue, right size for the expected # of attendees and most importantly their friendly staff. Looking at the feedback, it was the right choice (with the caveat that theater style seating arrangement would have been better).

Challenges

Once time and venue were locked in, we needed sponsors – both to support us financially and to provide credibility to the event. We had some challenges early on with one of the committed sponsor backing off sighting smaller size and lack of more sponsor support. However, we just trusted the community and proceeded with finalizing speakers and agenda. We also pinged all our contacts in major OpenStack vendors. More than 90% of the contacts responded positively. Later on, few sponsors contacted us directly too to participate!

We had a good response to our CFP and we recruited panelists actively. We also had a great suggestion from Egle Sigler to have a panel on Diversity. She connected us with stellar panelists for that panel. With all her help, we were able to say that this was the first OpenStack Day event to have a panel on Diversity!

Reality

Once we reached the critical momentum with lead sponsors and support from the OpenStack Foundation, ticket sales started rolling in. We got sold out two weeks in to the event upon which we added 25 more seats. With 175+ sold tickets, we still had more than 30 wait-listed attendees.

We always wanted to live-stream the event so that our international colleagues can tune in. Only question was if the venue can handle the bandwidth. Event getting sold out also required we live-stream the event. With the help of exceptional AV team (Melodic Caring Project), it was a breeze.

We also wanted to ensure great experience during the day. We chose better options wherever possible, such as three course Tuscany meal over soup & sandwiches, Organic cotton bags over cheaper trinkets, Full Bar in the reception over Beer & Wine. From the feedback, it appears small things had larger impact.

Feedback

Overall, we had overly positive feedback from the attendees and sponsors. Almost all that provided feedback said they would recommend this event. They were few things to improve upon too.

Things we did well

  1. Great speakers and content
    We had an overall Net Promoter (NSAT) Score of +40 for the event. This meant than more than 40% of respondents rated the event as 9 or above out of 10. We also had only one respondent rating the event below 7, with every one else rating 7 or above. Most of the speakers and content were also rated 7 or above.
  2. Great attendance
    We had more than 175 tickets sold with more than 30 wait-listed attendees. Among those, more than 150 from both Seattle and non-Seattle companies attended the event. Apart from sponsors, attendees came from small sized startups (such as Midfin, Impinj), medium sized companies (such as Getty Images,) to large enterprises (Adobe). Our live-stream also received more than 300 views.
  3. Great location
    Attendees felt the event location was upscale and niche. One of the comments said it all “It was little high end for an open source event”. We also had great feedback on food through out the day and reception in the evening.

Things to Improve upon

  1. Lack of Women speakers
    Out of 6 keynotes and 12 breakout sessions, we had only one women speaker. Going in to the event, we realized this and tried to fix this. Though this feedback is not unique to the event, we can do better job in recruiting more women speakers. Suggestions welcome!
  2. Not so good rating for couple of speakers
    Couple of speakers had lesser ratings, in contrast to the overall rating. We can do a better job in vetting speakers and their content.
  3. Seating and Lighting arrangements were sub-optimal
    We had originally planned on theater style seating at the main room and no vendor tables. With large interest from sponsors for vendor tables, we had to squeeze in lunch to the main room, hence forcing round table option. We learnt that this wasn’t optimal for viewing slide decks. We also learnt that the bright chandeliers were bit obstructive for slides and video recording.

Summary

Overall, this event was a grand success. We thank all the sponsors, OpenStack Foundation, audience and everyone involved. We hope to see you next year!

Links

  1. Videos: https://www.youtube.com/user/theclouddon/
  2. Google+ Page: https://plus.google.com/101537061519094119243

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *