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Complex Scalability in Delivering a Virtual Linux Plumbers Conference with Steven Rostedt and Jonathan Corbet

Linux Plumbers Conference (LPC) is an annual event that was created over a decade ago. It was specifically designed for ecosystems of Linux kernel developers and has expanded over the years to include compilers, tool chains and even data base experts. Most of these folks who interact with the kernel use very little of proprietary systems. They were looking for an event that was highly focused on technical exchange. This is not a typical conference. There is a definite defocus on sales and marketing. 


LPC insists that every abstract should provide a problem statement so that the session becomes a productive solution-creation session. Unlike other conferences where presentations are usually sharing new accomplishments, LPC focuses on where technology or code is not working. Micro conferences are setup for experts from across the spectrum to collect and coalesce ideas to move new and unique solutions to the next level. 

Going Virtual

Originally scheduled for the end of August in Nova Scotia, COVID-19 required the LPC organizers to consider a virtual venue. This presented a number of issues – but most importantly, they would not be selecting a proprietary event conferencing tool! The fact that this event is not a one-to-many presentation format also introduced unprecedented scalability and complexity issues. Each of the attendees is relied upon to participate in what has become a tradition of ad-hoc, face-to-face troubleshooting during intense think tank sessions. 

A New Way to Think Tank

Steven Rostedt, Open Source Engineer at VMware and Jonathan Corbet, Editor at both participated in the planning of how to take LPC 2020 virtual. With only six months of runway, many opinions and rampant bandwidth and platform restrictions, the conference was successfully delivered to more than 900 attendees. Like most big projects the level of complexity grew to a magnitude not imaginable at the onset of planning (see Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1: How complex the LPC Planning Committee believed it would be to deliver LPC 2020 virtually

Big Blue Button, an open source event platform, was selected as one of the technologies for the conference. Youtube streams were also deployed for those who would participate in listen-only mode., Internet Relay Chat and EtherChat were utilized to guarantee that every attendee had a voice. Six “hackrooms” were available for spontaneous collaboration from either sessions or hallway traffic. 

Figure 2: How complex it really became to deliver LPC 2020 virtually

Swag for the Speakers

Knowing that not every speaker would be prepared to deliver digitally, the committee armed them all with the basics. Webcams, lighting and headsets were sent to each presenter to create a consistent delivery experience for attendees (see Figure 3). Each presenter also received reminder cards to be used during other sessions to help their colleagues who were presenting hit their time marks. 

linux plumbers conference
Figure 3: Steven Rostedt presenting during LPC 2020 with standard webcam, lighting and headset

Overwhelmingly, the attendees provided positive feedback on their experiences. The results provide a foundation for future LPC events and a model for others who wish to deliver highly interactive conferences. 

Click through to view the presentation Jonathan Corbet and his team produced post mortem.

linux plumbers conference

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One comment has been added so far

  1. I’d like to stress that I (Steven Rostedt) and Jon Corbet were not the only ones to make this virtual event work. We couldn’t do it without all the hard work of others on the planning committee: Laura Abbott, Elena Zannoni, Kate Stewart, James Bottomley, Christian Brauner, Guy Lunardi, David Woodhouse, Paul E. McKenney, Carlos O’Donell.

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