Announcing: Spike Night at Velocity

Guest blogger Scott Ruthfield is a Program Committee member of the O’Reilly Velocity: Web Performance & Operations Conference. 

Web Operations is not for the casual observer: it’s for a particular kind of adrenaline junkie that’s motivated by graphs and servers spinning out of control.  Jumping in, on-your-feet analysis, and experience-based-experimentation are all part of solving new problems caused by unexpected user and machine behavior, and keeping a clear head when service owners and executives are panicking is part of the job. 
A core part of operations leadership is spike management – what you do when you see a significantly larger amount of load than you’ve had before. Sometimes this is predictable months out (Amazon knows, for example, that the first or second Monday of December will be their biggest day each year), sometimes days out (Twitter knew Oprah was coming), and sometimes not at all (what we still call the Slashdot Effect). Every web ops professional deals with some kind of spike – even intranets manage paydays and employee review days – and if you’re into it, well, spikes can be fun. Of course, maybe you use EC2 Auto-Scaling, and so (in theory) don’t have to worry about it, although of course bottlenecks come in many forms.
So at Velocity this year, we’re trying out something new: Spike Night.
Spike Night is a chance to see and learn about how real, high-traffic websites deal with massive increases in load, either expected or unexpected. We’ll see real-world management of traffic increases – graphs, tools, the whole shebang.
Now, it turns out that when I called up lots of people on the phone and said “can we throw massive load at your website so you can stand on stage and brag about it,” many web ops folks were excited, but then they start worrying about little things like “what if something goes wrong and everyone blogs about it” or “do I have to ask somebody in a PR department” and then calls went unreturned. 
Fortunately, two parties have stepped up, and I can’t wait to see what they have to show:
  • Chris Bissell, Chief Software Architect at MySpace, and members of the MySpace team will demonstrate a massive, real increase in traffic, and will manage it on-stage. MySpace already deals with tens of thousands of hits each second – we can’t throw enough traffic at them to cause any harm – so they’ll cause their own harm and then show how they work through it.
  • Ryan NelsonOperations Director for MLB Advanced Media and, will walk us through a combination of war stories and live traffic management to show what happens when millions of baseball fans all want to see what’s happened after the commercial break at the exact same time. Between their very popular desktop apps and their newly-announced iPhone game streaming, the MLB is a true leader in technology innovation with a rabid fan base that goes well beyond the Web 2.0 echo chamber.
Spike Night is meant to be a fun event, taking place Tuesday June 23rd @ 7:30PM at Velocity, and open to the larger web community – a Velocity conference pass is not required to attend. I’m looking forward to hosting interesting demos and a fun Q&A, and hope to see all of you there!
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