Velocity: The Art of Web Operations

Two years ago, at the 2007 O’Reilly Open Source Convention, a group of web operations professionals, led by Jesse Robbins and Steve Souders along with O’Reilly editor Andy Oram, asked for a meeting with me. Their message: “We need a separate conference for our community.” That community: the web operations professionals who keep sites up and running.

They knew I was receptive. A year earlier, I’d published a blog post entitled Operations: The New Secret Sauce. I had been pushing for years to get books on web operations into our publishing list (and in fact, Steve’s book, High Performance Websites was in production at that time, and Andy had a number of other titles in the works.)

But nonetheless, the meeting felt like an intervention. It was absurdly exciting. I had been thinking in the abstract about the fact that as we move to a software as a service world, one of the big changes was that applications had people “inside” of them, managing them, tuning them, and helping them respond to constantly changing conditions. The skills and tools used by these people would need to be spread to a wider audience. But here were a group of these people – a big group – saying “We need an identity as a profession, and we need a gathering place for our tribe. We want your help.”

How could I say no? We agreed to start with a “Summit” meeting to bring together the community and brainstorm ideas. Gina Blaber, our VP of Conferences, organized a meeting of 30 or 40 of the “big dogs”, and the excitement was palpable. She moved quickly on from there to launch the Velocity conference. It was a success in its first year out, and the second annual conference, starting today in San Jose, promises to be even better.

What’s more, the fact that attendance has surpassed last year, in an economy that has depressed attendance at many industry conferences by 30-50%, says something about the growing importance of this new field.

Back when I first began thinking about this topic for our publishing program, five or six years ago, observing that we needed books on what went on inside of Google and companies like it – the tools and processes they use to deliver such astounding performance and scale – the pushback was that “there are only a few companies operating at that scale.”

But of course, if you’ve heard me speak, you’ve probably heard me quote William Gibson: “The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.” Now, there are hundreds of companies (at least) operating at the scale that Google was operating at when I first made those statements. Over 700 of the people who keep them running are converging on San Jose today.

Velocity opens today with workshops and tutorials. The regular conference program begins tomorrow. The conference team has provided me with a special discount code for people who want to up-end their schedule and register at the last minute. Use VEL09BLOG for 20% off. There’s also an Ignite session tonight, free and open to the public. Spike Night on Tuesday, a demonstration of how companies respond to huge spikes in traffic, is also open to non-conference attendees. It should be a fabulous gathering.