This year there was the 1st edition of Velocity Europe. I got to present a talk on a DDoS attack we faced at Opera, and it was really awesome to be there.
The long version…
Around July this year I knew there was going to be a Velocity Conference in Europe, and I decided I would try to propose a few ideas for talks. I didn't have my hopes too high, but I wanted to give it a shot anyways, pushing myself way out of my comfort zone :)
The worst that could happen was that the talks didn't get accepted. After a month or so the crazy thing happened, and I got an invite to speak at Velocity, due in November.
The first few months passed while I was slowly gathering material for the talk. The idea was talking about the DDoS attack that struck us in October 2010. Almost a year had passed, so if we hadn't taken notes and collected all sorts of logs and information, we wouldn't have had any chance to reconstruct all the "story" with enough detail to be interesting.
Anyway, weeks went by, and in September I started writing down an outline of the talk. It consisted in describing what happened during the DDoS and how we faced it, what we did, how we figured out what to do, etc… but I didn't have a clear idea of what to convey with the actual presentation. What would be the core message, if any?
If I learned anything out of all this, is that writing an outline is absolutely the best favor you can do to yourself to avoid so many problems later on. Just write it down as a text, a blog post, a story. Mind maps are also useful for me.
Last 3-4 weeks flew away while I was trying to put together a decent deck of slides.
In Berlin: pre-conference
"Birds of feathers" was the pre-conference event that took place on Monday 7th (November 2011, if you're reading this in the future), put together by a local team led by Schlomo Schapiro, which I got to talk to also during the conference. It was a good event, Steve Souders and John Allspaw and many other conference attendees were already there. There were sponsor companies presenting their products.
The most interesting sessions of the pre-conference IMO were:
- 100ms: Steve Souders pushed everyone to think about the next level of web performance. How to bring down the "loading time" of web pages to 100ms. There was an interesting discussion about that. My point was that loading time really needs to be divided into at least dns resolution, server processing, network transfers, client rendering. So there's at least 4 totally different chunks that make up the load time and all of them can be optimized, but with varying levels of gain and complexity.
- Dyn inc presentation about their product dashboard, that led to a better productivity and communication between teams. Cory van Wollerstein explained their mash-up of Jira and Confluence, used to automatically pull information from the tickets db and provide high-level overviews to executive teams. Very cool. He also argued whether having product managers is a good thing for a company.
The rest of the day I was busy polishing my presentation, and trying to rehearse at the hotel. A month before the conference, I had bought The Naked Presenter (ebook edition), hoping that it would help me do a decent presentation. The book of course recommended to rehearse. It felt very weird and embarassing, but I'm *so* glad I did it. I managed to streamline the presentation, and memorize the sequence of slides.
The Conference – Day 1
Opening remarks, plus Theo Schlossnagle, one of the minds behind SurgeCon, on how good operations dudes are usually generalists and need to have a wide spectrum knowledge instead of being "(Perl|Python|Ruby|Java) developers". I really recognize myself in this more generalist role than, for example, the Ruby-on-Rails guy.
These were lightning demos during the first morning:
Rest of Day 1 went to hell
I had to convert all my slides to 4:3 and test again with the on-site equipment. I was also freaking out at the same time, so I missed everything else until my talk. Sorry :)
Most talks have been recorded and are already up on the Velocity site. Particularly interesting IMO, but video not available yet, are:
As I said, it was about the DDoS attack to my.opera.com of October 2010. I basically talked about how we found out we were under DDoS, and how we struggled to find our way to keep the site up and running despite the traffic. This was a mid-scale DDoS with around 18k distinct IPs attacking us. We had a hard time, but it was also very much fun in retrospect :) We learned quite a lot in the process, about HTTP and TCP/IP, nkiller2 and the TCP zero-window exploit. Most importantly, we learned to make better use of old and new tools to do troubleshooting. You will find all of this in the slides.
I did my best, and I think it was well received by the audience. While on stage, I really had the feeling that people enjoyed it, plus several folks came to say hello afterwards. One of the most frequent comments I heard was that people found my talk honest. That is the single thing I appreciate the most, because that had been one of my goals since the start. To tell an honest and detailed story of how things went, without pretending to be the super awesome heroes that know everything and can fix anything in no time.
Unfortunately, after the conference I was informed that there had been no recording of the talk. That is really sad. However, since there's no recording, I can pretend I was a nice speaker, given the ratings :). Seriously, if you have a picture or video recording, contact me :)
Here's the slides if you're interested:
The Conference – Day 2
Very inspirational talk by Jeff Veen, Typekit.com
Very well presented, great visuals. Great overall. How to create conditions for teams to work and work well.
Anticipation: What could possibly go wrong? by John Allspaw, Etsy
A great talk about how to prevent, analyze, respond to Operations problems. I very much like John's style, I think he's a pioneer, at least he introduced me to many great ideas, one above all, continuous deployment. I also like his many references to aviation, aerospace and military engineering fields.
Full stack awareness, Artur Bergman, Fastly
He's Artur Bergman. Listen to him :-) If anything, because he's really authentic.
Another session of lightning demos, for our pleasure:
Browser performance track
Deploying large payloads at scale, Ramon van Alteren (hyves.nl)
Biggest social network in the Netherlands (4M daily active users, ~10M total users). Ramon is a very cool guy. They have 3.5K servers, and their main application consists of 750Mb compiled php binaries to deploy. And they are experimenting with bittorrent tools to do that :)
I had a few hours of engaging talk with Ramon at one of the social events that followed the conference. We found lots of similarities in how we're dealing with infrastructural growth, scaling, etc… We both use config management tools like puppet extensively in our organizations. We promised each other to remain in touch about deployment matters.
HTTP connection management from 10 users to 100 millions, Bradley Heilbrun, YouTube
Really interesting dive into YouTube early (2005-2007) architecture with Apache, load balancers, GSLB.
I met Bradley later on that day and we had a quick chat. Turns out they use(d) PowerDNS with its pipe backend for geographic load balancing, much like as we do in Opera with GeoDNS. That made my day :-) It's a pity that companies like YouTube don't talk much about their current technology. They usually tell you about 2-3 years old architectures. That's still very valuable, of course.
If you're even remotely interested in operations, devops, running a service, scaling, performance, infrastructure, then Velocity is the conference. Surge is another one, probably even better, more hardcore-engineering focused. From my perspective, there's a couple of things that could be improved:
- while I understand that sponsors are what makes conferences like Velocity possible, some sponsors took too much time out of the actual talk tracks. One or two talks were very promotional in nature, and it was clear to everyone that these companies were pushing their products or themselves. Maybe it wasn't their intention, but to me and to others I talked to, it came out that way.
I think Velocity needs to screen better this type of talks and separate them from the authentic content that people want, the "stories from the trenches". As a counter-example, Google, among other companies, were doing sponsoring (and recruiting!) activities in a separate hall. That worked very well for everyone. Please let's keep it that way.
- the on-site technical team wasn't fully prepared to handle presentations made with Open Office. That is not acceptable if you ask me, even if the majority of speakers have a Mac. It's 2011 (2012 now even), so you really need to be prepared to read OpenOffice files. I realize that wasn't Velocity organizers' fault, but I think it's something to consider for next time.
That said, I'm really really happy about my experience at Velocity Europe, both as a speaker and as attendee. It was really awesome, and worth every moment I spent working to prepare for it. Thank you O'Reilly, and I hope to be able to participate again some day :)