Dave Nielsen takes the cloud to camp

Want to stay up on the latest trends in cloud computing? Maybe it's time to go to camp

Last summer, the first CloudCamp conference debuted, organized by Dave Nielsen and a group of other cloud aficianados. This June, they're doing it again. Dave is a Web services pro who's been guiding a number of high-profile developer programs for companies like PayPal. CloudCamp brings together early adopters of cloud computing technologies to exchange ideas in an open format. CloudCamp is about to hit my hometown of Austin, Texas, so I decided to sit down with David and discuss how CloudCamp started, what has happened in the last year, and where he and the team plan on taking it in the future.

whurley: Who originally came up with the idea for CloudCamp?

Nielsen: Five of us put on the first CloudCamp, so there are at least five versions of this story. Here's how I remember it: A couple of months after I registered CloudCamp.org I saw a post by Reuven Cohen asking if anyone wanted to put on a "CloudCamp" in San Francisco. Of course I was interested and offered the use of my domain name. That's when I found out that Reuven owned CloudCamp.com. So clearly we both had the idea, but it was Reuven who instigated the first CloudCamp and brought us all together. Sam Charrington, Jesse Silver and Sara Dornsife also responded and the five of us split up the tasks and organized the first CloudCamp in San Francisco on June 24th, 2008.

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whurley: CloudCamp is billed as an "unconference." What's that?

Nielsen: For the first CloudCamp, we considered a more traditional conference format with predetermined topics, but several of us had experience with the Open Space unconference format and it seemed like a good fit. I had personal experience with it from leading discussions at FooCamp2004 and MashupCamp1. At an unconference, none of the sessions are chosen in advance and we worried whether attendees would rise to the challenge and propose topics for discussion. But in the end we agreed that the attendees would come up with better topics than we would and so the event would be better as an unconference. It turned out we were right and we haven't looked back since.

whurley: How did the first CloudCamp turn out?

Nielsen: CloudCamp San Francisco was a truly amazing event. There were about 350 people in attendance, and over 30 Cloud Computing sessions were proposed and led by the attendees. I think everyone considered our first CloudCamp a great success, and from then on, all CloudCamps would be formed around the unconference concept.

whurley: What are the most exciting things that have happened to the event over the last year?

Nielsen: It has been exciting to see CloudCamp catch on in other cities. First in the UK where Alexis Richardson and Chris Purrington helped create CloudCamp London. Tom Leyden has been instrumental in spreading CloudCamp throughout Europe We just finished bringing CloudCamp to India and Singapore and there are plans in the works for Australia and Egypt. CloudCamp Austin on April 25th will be our 27th CloudCamp.

Personally, it was exiting to help the local organizers in India get organized and put on CloudCamp Bangalore. According to Google Trends, the people of Bangalore Googled the term "Cloud Computing" more than any other city in the world, yet Bangalore is so far from the action here in Silicon Valley. The organizers found an excellent venue, recruited some startups with Cloud experience, and the attendees really responded to the unconference format and even our new Unpanel.

whurley: What are your favorite three presentations from CloudCamp over the past year?

Nielsen: 1) At CloudCamp Silicon Valley, Sam Charrington led a session on "What is Cloud Computing?" Many people new to the space come to CloudCamp to get up to speed on the topic, and Sam's session was a big hit with the newbies. It was CloudCamp in its purest form – no slides or marketing hype, just a knowledgeable facilitator up at a whiteboard leading an interactive discussion on the meaning and potential of cloud computing. So many people found it useful that I've suggested it to every CloudCamp since.

2) At CloudCamp Brussels a presenter from Quest Software gave a Lightening Talk about the power consumed in a Cloud Computing datacenter. It was a little out there, but well presented. He suggested that future application developers will need to pay attention to energy costs by evaluating their code on a transactions per Watt basis.

3) My personal favorite is the Unpanel which evolved from something we called a Lightening Panel at CloudCamp Indianapolis. The Unpanel is meant to compliment to the Unconference because it draws from the knowledge of the attendees to provide answers to their own questions. I start the Unpanel by saying, "I don't know who the panelists are, and I don't know what the questions are, but lets get started". I usually have everyone's attention after that. Next, I ask a few targeted questions of the audience to find 5 experienced and knowledgeable attendees and invite them to be on the panel. Then I ask the audience to give me the 10 most pressing questions about Cloud Computing which I write down on a white board for all to see. The panelists are instructed to take turns answering questions from the list until all 10 questions are answered. After each answer, I turn to the audience and ask "Are we done with this question, or do we need a session?" This is a great way to identify potential sessions for the Unconference. The Unpanel has been a big hit and has become a permanent part of CloudCamp.

whurley: What would you say is the most significant development that's come out of CloudCamp?

Nielsen: The breadth of the support we are receiving from the grassroots of the Cloud Computing ecosystem: from local startups to large vendors, small businesses to large enterprises, individual consultants to large systems integrators. Even local media and bloggers get involved. We're very lucky to have this kind of support. Even more than our interactive format, the wide range of participants is what makes CloudCamp so special.

whurley: Do you ever see CloudCamp becoming more formalized and helping drive the creation of open cloud standards?

Nielsen: We've thought about standards, but CloudCamp has been apolitical so far, and I don't think anyone wants to see CloudCamp get caught up in standards politics. Besides, there are plenty of standards groups already. Perhaps CloudCamps can be a place where these people can safely discuss their ideas requirements and people interested in standards can get feedback from real customers. That said, it has been important for us to formalize CloudCamp to some degree – if only to make it easier for sponsors to deal with us.

whurley: What does the future hold for CloudCamp?

Nielsen: We started with five volunteers putting on one CloudCamp. Today we've put on dozens of CloudCamps, each with their own local volunteers. By putting on unconferences with high-quality discussions, I think we're helping to increase awareness for Cloud Computing and helping the industry spread around the world. And believe me, we have our hands full with that. But one thing is certain, whatever we do, it will be a result of listening to input from our volunteers and attendees.

whurley: Bonus question -- what is your take on the Open Cloud Manifesto?

Nielsen: First of all, CloudCamp has little to do with the manifesto other than to offer a safe environment for people to discuss it. But personally, I think the manifesto is a step in the right direction. It's not perfect, and it could have been handled differently, but it encourages interoperability which should benefit customers and help grow the industry for everyone.

Well there you have it InfoWorld readers. Have any of you been to a CloudCamp? If you plan on attending, be ready to share, because sharing is caring. Just kidding. Open discussions are key to the success of any un-conference, and CloudCamp is no exception. Gear up! Participate! An active community of users, developers, and vendors collaborating on common goals means everybody wins. Whether you're a user or a seasoned IT pro, be there. You might learn something.

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