A few days ago, I had the privilege of attending SCaLE 11X in Los Angeles. And for me, it truly was a privilege. It had been over 5 years since I had the joy of attending a true Open Source conference of any real size, and what I found at SCaLE really excited me.
I have a fuzzy recollection of the last few events I attended. Those last few were LinuxWorld Expo events — big, glitzy, commercial shindigs where the press announcements, swag, and booth babes seemed to capture the bulk of the attention. By the time the doors closed at LinuxWorld, it was getting hard to find anyone anywhere who did anything but sell something. That’s why my memory is so fuzzy; truth be told, there wasn’t much worth remembering from those last few shows.
But one show I do remember was the 1997 Atlanta Linux Showcase. A simple pipe-and-drape affair, the show consisted of about 500 geeks (about 490 of which were of the overweight white male variety) meeting on a weekend in Atlanta to discuss this neat new operating system called Linux. It featured such notables as Jon “Maddog” Hall, Eric Raymond, and a somewhat subdued young gent named Torvalds. The booths were nothing to remember. The swag was fairly minimal — mostly Linux CDs (which was cool enough at the time).
But, to me, the story was the attendees themselves. There was a light in their eyes. There was a fire in their bellies. All they could talk about was the code they were either hacking or using. Everyone wanted to make the world better, and there was no one — absolutely no one in the world — in a position to say, “No.” I left that show convinced that the sky was the limit for Linux. These folks had the passion to do something great, even if they didn’t have any corporate funding behind them.
It’s that little show from a decade and a half ago which came to mind when I attended SCaLE. SCaLE was also a pipe-and-drape affair held on a weekend. It was also filled with geeks, albeit with a lower percentage of overweight white male variety, but that’s progress. There wasn’t a ton of swag (although folks gobbled up our supply of “Be Zen, Use Xen” T-shirts at the Xen.org booth). But there were signs of passion. That passion wasn’t quite as intense as in days gone by, but it was present none the less. It left my jaded, overly commercial LinuxWorld memories to gather dust in the deep recesses of my mind.
The crowds were definitely larger than in the old days. A SCaLE organizer said they had already cleared 2200 attendees by Saturday afternoon. That’s quite a sizable attendance for a small show. And certainly not bad for an entirely volunteer affair. Oh, yes, did I neglect to mention that this 11th incarnation of SCaLE was, once again, an all volunteer event? No paid show staff, no high-powered PR people, no hoopla — just geeks being geeks. Ilan Rabinovitch and team deserve much credit for a wonderful show.
The show was not without its glitches. The savage winter weather in the midwest detained a few speakers, causing some last minute cancellations. For example, my colleague Joe Brockmeier could not get through the midwest snows in time to make his Friday morning talk about The Xen Cloud Platform. As a result, the talks in the Build A Cloud Day track had to be shifted around a bit. Thankfully, Joe did arrive in time for his Sunday talk, Taking the Open Cloud to 11 with CloudStack. But not even the commercial glitz of LinuxWorld would have been able to change the weather, so small inconveniences such as this are no blight on the record of this show.
We met a lot of interesting people at the Xen booth. In fact, the size of the crowd on Saturday was so great that my Xen coworker Lars Kurth almost lost his voice from hours of continuous talking. Thankfully, he recovered his voice in time to deliver his talk at 4:30 PM Sunday, entitled Virtualization with Xen and XCP. Despite the late hour and the distraction of an impending little party called the “Academy Awards,” about 5 dozen hearty souls decided to attend.
I was a bit surprised not to find more people I knew from the earlier days of Open Source. I did come across Don Marti, who though he has chosen to conceal himself with a very ambitious beard, is always recognizable. But the number of enthusiastic faces I saw at this very large little show proved that Open Source will have staying power for many years to come. And that is truly refreshing.