Sunday, December 9, 2012

Review - Velocity Conference

December 09, 2012 Posted by Jason Irwin 1 comment

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this title from O’Reilly

Velocity Conference 2012: Complete Video Compilation

Recently I wrote a review of O'Reilly's Fluent Conference video compilation. I gave the set a gushing review and enjoyed the content so much that I decided to review the 2012 Velocity Conference set. I wasn't disappointed.

For those who don't know, Velocity is O'Reilly's Web Performance and Operations conference. Similar to O'Reilly's other conferences Velocity brings together experts from many prevalent technology companies - including Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and Walmart, to name but a few. The conference was split into four tracks: Web Performance, Operations, Velocity Culture and Mobile Performance and focuses a lot of attention on web metrics and large scale web performance. The set weighs in at a whopping 54.5 hours for $400 (at time of writing). As with previous O'Reilly content that I have reviewed, the production quality of this set is amazing. Video is high definition, sound is crystal clear and while the set may seem pricey at first, the video set is a very viable alternative to attending the conference in person. Given the impact of performance on both user engagement and conversion optimization this set is invaluable to anyone building or maintaining a commercial web application.

I still have a bunch left to watch - the set includes 100 videos! - but so far some of my favorite talks have been:

A Web Perf Dashboard: Up & Running in 90 Minutes by Aaron Kulick and Cliff Crocker

In this two part session Aaron Kulick (of the Walmart operations team) and Cliff Crocker (formerly of the same team) detail the steps required to build a performance dashboard using piwik, boomerang.js, webpagetest, graphite and a host of other open source technologies. It's a very interesting talk with the speakers explaining the rationale and gotchas when building an operations dashboard including lessons learned when working on Walmart's large scale web properties. It is also exciting to see a talk where the end result is a usable product in the form of a VM containing the dashboard created during the talks (though I have yet to find the link for said VM).

Building for a Billion Users by Jay Parikh

It is always fascinating to gain insight into the tools and techniques leveraged by software behemoths. In this presentation Facebook engineering VP Jay Parikh gives a great overview of Facebook's systems and processes focusing both on performance and operations concerns. Seeing the tools and techniques that Facebook uses to scale to billions of users is riveting and I look forward to doing some research into some open sourced tools such as phabricator that I hadn't previously heard of.

Investigating Anomolies by John Rauser

In this talk John Rauser of Amazon uses the London Cholera Epidemic of 1854 to illustrate the need to use data analysis (including high level statistical summaries, distribution of data and raw logs) to explain anomalies in software systems and thus make systems more bulletproof. This is a much less technical presentation than the others in the series, but the content was extremely interesting and an imaginative way to instill the need to research and identify system anomalies.


My only real complaint is that I have yet to find some of the content provided by speakers during the conference (for example, the dropbox link for the Web Perf Dashboard VM discussed during the Aaron Kulick/Cliff  Crocker talk). It would be nice if O'Reilly added links to supplementary content as this is the only thing lacking at this point.

Summary (tl;dr;)

As with previous titles I've reviewed I find the cost of this set ($400) very justifiable. It is inexpensive relative to the cost of a conference pass, not to mention travel and accommodation costs. You also get to see all conference tracks - something you can't do in person. The conference covers a number of technologies that i previously had no experience with (including Puppet, Chef, SPDY and Vagrant) and brings together many of the best and most famous minds in devops. It's really great stuff and if you have an interest in developing large scale web properties or instrumenting and/or boosting the performance of existing properties, this set is a must-have!