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June 27 2011

Velocity 2011 retrospective

This was my third Velocity conference, and it's been great to see it grow. Smoothly running a conference with roughly 2,000 registered attendees (well over 50% more than 2010) is itself a testament to the importance of operations.

Velocity 2011 had many highlights, and below you'll find mine. I'll confess to some biases up front: I'm more interested in operations than development, so if you think mobile and web performance are underrepresented here, you're probably right. There was plenty of excellent content in those tracks, so please add your thoughts about those and other sessions in the comments area.

Blame and resilience engineering

I was particularly impressed by John Allspaw's session on "Advanced Post-mortem Fu." To summarize it in a sentence, it was about getting beyond blame. The job of a post-mortem analysis isn't to assign blame for failure, but to realize that failure happens and to plan the conditions under which failure will be less likely in the future. This isn't just an operational issue; moving beyond blame is a broader cultural imperative. Cultural historians have made much of the transition from shame culture — where if you failed you were "shamed" and obliged to leave the community — to guilt culture, where shame is internalized (the world of Hawthorne's "Scarlet Letter"). Now, we're clearly in a "blame culture," where it's always someone else's fault and nothing is ever over until the proper people have been blamed (and, more than likely, sued). That's not a way forward, for web ops any more than finance or medicine. John presented some new ways for thinking about failure, studying it, and making it less likely without assigning blame. There is no single root cause; many factors contribute to both success and failure, and you won't understand either until you take the whole system into account. Once you've done that, you can work on ways to improve operations to make failure less likely.

Velocity 2011 Online Access Pass
Couldn't make it to Velocity? Purchase the Velocity Online Access pass for $495 and get the following: The Velocity bookshelf — six essential O'Reilly ebooks; access to three upcoming online conferences; and access to the extensive Velocity 2011 conference video archive

Learn more about the Velocity Online Access Pass

John's talk raised the idea of "resilience engineering," an important
theme that's emerging from the Velocity culture. Resilience
engineering isn't just about making things that work; anyone can do
that. It's about designing systems that stay running in the face of
problems. Along similar lines, Justin Sheehy's talk was specifically about
resilience in the design of Riak. It was fascinating to
see how to design a distributed database so that any node could
suddenly disappear with no loss of data. Erlang, which Riak uses, encourages developers
to write partition tasks into small pieces that are free to crash,
running under a supervisor that restarts failed tasks.

Bryan Cantrill's excellent presentation on instrumenting the real-time web using Node.js and DTrace would win my vote for the best technical presentation of the conference, but it was most notable for his rant on Greenland and Antarctica's plot to take over the world. While the rant was funny, it's important not to forget the real message: DTrace is an underused but extremely flexible tool that can tell you exactly what is going on inside an application. It's more complex than other profiling tools I've seen, but in return for complexity, it lets you specify exactly what you want to know, and delivers results without requiring special compilation or even affecting the application's performance.

Data and performance

John Rauser's workshop on statistics ("Decisions in the Face of Uncertainty"), together with his keynote ("Look at your Data"), was another highlight. The workshop was an excellent introduction to working with data, an increasingly important tool for anyone interested in performance. But the keynote took it a step further, going beyond the statistics and looking at the actual raw data, spread across the living room floor. That was a powerful reminder that summary statistics are not always the last word in data: the actual data, the individual entries in your server logs, may hold the clues to your performance problem.

Velocity observations and overarching themes

There were many other memorable moments at Velocity (Steve Souders' belly dance wasn't one of them). I was amazed that Sean Power managed to do an Ignite Karaoke (a short impromptu presentation against a set of slides he didn't see in advance) that wasn't just funny, but actually almost made sense.

I could continue, but I would end up listing every session I attended; my only regret is that I couldn't attend more. Video for the conference keynotes is available online, so you can catch up on some of what you missed. The post-conference online access pass provides video for all the sessions for which presenters gave us permission.

Women's MeetupThe excellent sessions aren't the only news from Velocity. The Velocity Women's Networking Meetup had more than double the previous years' attendance; the group photo (right) has more people than I can count. The job board was stuffed to the gills. The exhibit hall dwarfed 2010's — I'd guess we had three times as many exhibitors — and there were doughnuts! But more than the individual sessions, the exhibits, the food, or the parties, I'll remember the overarching themes of cultural change; the many resources available for studying and improving performance; and most of all, the incredible people I met, all of whom contributed to making this conference a success.

We'll see you at the upcoming Velocity Europe in November and Velocity China in December, and next year at Velocity 2012 in California.


June 17 2011

Velocity 2011 debrief

Women's MeetupVelocity wrapped up yesterday. This was Velocity's fourth year and every year has seen significant growth, but this year felt like a tremendous step up in all areas. Total attendance grew from 1,200 last year to more than 2,000 people. The workshops were huge, the keynotes were packed, and the sessions in each track were bigger than anyone expected. The exhibit hall was more than twice as big as last year and it was still crowded every time I was there.

Sample some of the tweets to see the reaction of attendees, sponsors, and exhibitors.

Several folks on the #velocityconf Twitter stream have been asking about slides and videos. You can find those on the Velocity Slides and Videos page. There are about 25 slide decks up there right now. The rest of the slides will be posted as we receive them from the speakers. Videos of all the keynotes will be made available for free. Several are there already posted, including "Career Development" by Theo Schlossnagle, "JavaScript & Metaperformance" by Doug Crockford, and "Look at Your Data" by the omni-awesome John Rauser. Videos of every afternoon session are also available via the Velocity Online Access Pass ($495).

Velocity 2011 had a great crowd with a lot of energy. Check out the Velocity photos to get a feel for what was happening. We had more women speakers than ever before and I was psyched when I saw this photo of the Women's Networking Meet Up that took place during the conference (also posted above).

Velocity 2011: Take-aways, Trends, and Highlights — In this webcast following Velocity 2011, program chairs Steve Souders and John Allspaw will identify and discuss key trends and announcements that came out of the event and how they will impact the web industry in the year to come.

Join us on Friday, June 24, 2011, at 10 am PT

Register for this free webcast

Make sure to check out all the announcements that were made at Velocity. There were a couple big announcements about Velocity itself, including:

  • After four years Jesse Robbins is passing the co-chair mantle to John Allspaw. I worked with John at Yahoo! when he was with Flickr. John is VP of Tech Ops at Etsy now. He stepped into many of the co-chair duties at this Velocity in preparation for taking on the role at the next Velocity.
  • Speaking of the next Velocity, we announced there will be a Velocity Europe in November in Berlin.
    The exact venue and dates will be announced soon, followed quickly by a call for proposals.
    We're extremely excited about expanding Velocity to Europe and look forward to connecting with the performance and operations communities there,
    and helping grow the WPO and devops industries in that part of the world.
    In addition, the second Velocity China will be held in Beijing in December 2011.
  • And of course we'll be back next June for our fifth year of Velocity here in the Bay Area.

I covered a lot in this post and didn't even talk about any of the themes, trends, and takeaways. John and I will be doing that at the Velocity Wrap-up Webcast on Friday, June 24 at 10am PT. It's free so invite your friends and colleagues to join in.


Four short links: 17 June 2011

  1. Don't Play Games With Me -- slides from an excellent talk about games and gamification. (via Andy Baio)
  2. All Your Bitcoins Are Ours (Symantec) -- a trojan in the wild that targets the wallet.dat file and transfers your bitcoins out. If you use Bitcoins, you have the option to encrypt your wallet and we recommend that you choose a strong password for this in the event that an attacker is attempting to brute-force your wallet open. (via Hacker News)
  3. FT Escapes the App Trap (Simon Phipps) -- Financial Times dropping their iOS app and moving to HTML5, to escape the App Store commissions. As Simon points out, they're also losing the sales channel benefits of the App Store. Facebook are doing similar. (via Tim O'Reilly)
  4. Artur Bergman on SSDs (video) -- a short sweary rant he gave at Velocity, laying out the numbers for why you're an idiot not to use SSDs.

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