This post was contributed by Pam Derringer.
Red Hat pulled off quite a coup with its annual Summit, equaling or slightly topping last year’s 1,200 attendees despite the slow economy, and the conflict with VMworld. Not to mention the disadvantage of running right up to Labor Day weekend. What were they thinking? But the Chicago weather definitely was a plus, with blue skies and temps in the mid-70s.
For me, the highlight of the Summit was the Thursday keynote by CTO Brian Stevens, who went far beyond the platitudes everyone in the audience already knows and spelled out Red Hat’s vision for boosting adoption of virtualization and cloud computing, the former by making virtualization ubiquitous with KVM and the latter by heading up research to make cloud computing portable and more widespread. Two projects singled out for brief video clips were Hail which is developing an open networking protocols and Delta Cloud, a project focused on developing a universal cloud interface. The keynote had energy and drive that is not always seen, surely meant to encourage and excite customers.
Another cool innovation: the Summit allowed attendees to network in advance with EventVue, a Facebook-type venue where attendees could post their photos and interests and email other attendees they wished to meet ahead of the event. This sounds like an idea that will become standard conferencing fare for the future, if it hasn’t already.
Now for the downside: Never in my long career of covering conferences have I ever been kicked out of a workshop. So I was completely stunned to find myself persona non-grata at Randy Russell’s talk on Red Hat certification, which was supposed to be a group discussion, giving attendees an opportunity to provide Red Hat with feedback on certification trends and practices, according to the abstract. But Russell apparently wanted to discuss specific questions on the test, which he did not want public, so he ejected me from the session, then complained that he had expected a much bigger audience. “Not my fault,” I said with a grin, while leaving. Red Hat PR staff scrambled to schedule a phone interview for me the following week but this is the sort of worst foot forward that should never happen. If, in fact, the discussion proceeded as Russell said, I wouldn’t have had much to write anyway and would have left of my own accord.
Secondy, in my opinion the agenda would have been much better organized if it had a separate listing by times with both keynotes and workshops listed, in addition to the listing by topic. Sure, anyone could look vertically across the schedule to compare workshop times, but it would have been nice to have two complete, separate agendas, one by topic, the other by time, and also including other events like lunch and keynotes. But it was nice that the agendas fit in the plastic holders with our IDs. Very handy. Not that I always remembered to keep mine there.
Thirdly, the food was a disaster. To think I was worried about gaining weight; I probably lost. I had been salivating for a repeat of last year’s feast at Boston, with a full breakfast and lots of yummy cookies, with a strong emphasis on chocolate. This year, those of us who arrived early enough to actually get food for breakfast had to stand up, Manhattan style, juggling juice, coffee and muffins along with our laptops. Not only was this not very satisfying but attendees lost an opportunity to network with others over an actual meal. Just to rub it in, I happened by an upper floor meeting room where Red Hat was treating government guests to eggs and bacon, presumably a sit-down affair with a talk. I felt like a starving airline passenger in the first row of coach, smelling the delicious food being enjoyed by first class passengers a few feet away. And it wasn’t just the quality of the meals, but there seemed to be fewer coffee pots and cookies available. Whatever the reason, I wonder if Red Hat pared down everything this year to lower expenses, anticipating a much smaller crowd? And made us eat in the vendor exhibit area to boost eyeballs for the exhibitor booths? Whatever the rationale, Red Hat should scratch the Chicago 2009 food planning and go more upscale next year.