by Swapnil Bhartiya

SCALE 14x: The first major open source event of the year

Jan 12, 2016
LinuxOpen Source

SCALE (Southern California Linux Expo) is one of the largest Linux and free and open source software (FOSS) events in North America. In previous years, SCALE was held in February, but this year it moved to January, making it the first major open source event of the year.

I will be attending SCALE 14x to bring latest stories from the event to the readers of CIO.

To learn more about the event I talked to SCALE’s conference chair Ilan Rabinovitch and publicity chairperson Larry Cafiero. Following is an edited version of that conversation.

How are you two associated with the event?

Cafiero: I am the Publicity Chairperson, along with co-chair Hannah Anderson. I make the herculean effort every year to inform the tech media on SCALE developments, as well as serve as a liaison between SCALE and the mainstream media and tech groups regarding the promotion of the expo. Hannah handles the social media side of things, so between us, we have pretty much everything covered when promoting SCALE.

Rabinovitch: I am conference chair and one of the original founding members of SCALE. I’m a general cat herder for the overall conference, in addition to handling our business operations for both SCALE and LinuxFest, such as sponsorship recruitment, venue management, etc.

When did SCALE start? What was the reason behind the event?

SCALE, initially known as the Southern California Linux Expo was first held in 2002. Most of the founding team were students at USC, UCLA, Cal State Northridge and UC Santa Barbara. USC’s Computer Science department was our founding sponsor and provided us with funds and a venue to help us get off the ground that first year.

Our mission today is to provide accessible educational opportunities on FOSS to attendees of all ages and levels of experience.

We started the conference out of personal need. We wanted to have developers from our favorite open source projects join us at our meetings, but were finding it challenging to convince them to join us for a 1 hour meeting. And many of us being college students or in some cases younger, we found the conferences of the time were off limits to us either due to cost or age (Linux World Conference and Expo had an 18+ rule).

But to go back a little further in time, the springboard for SCALE comes from the “LUGFests” held at the Nortel facility in Simi Valley, just north of Los Angeles. The Southern California Linux User Group scene was quite vibrant at the time with over 20 different groups meeting regularly to host presentations or install-fests. We needed a meta-meeting so that we could have some cross-over.

Eventually Nortel was hit by the dotCom bubble bursting though and after about 5 LUGfests we lost our venue. We knew we were onto something though and wanted to keep the magic going, so we combined efforts with other schools in the area to form SCALE.

After our inaugural event in 2002, the running joke from attendees was we would need to “scale-up 2x.” For the first four conference we did indeed double in size year over year, so the pun stuck and our 14th annual event is known as SCALE 14x.

How does the management of SCALE work? Is there a company/organization behind it or it is volunteer? Can you shed some light on its operations?

SCALE is a completely volunteer-run event, with fiscal sponsorship provided by the non-profit LinuxFests, which was initially formed to support SCALE, is now the backing organization for Texas LinuxFest, the Seattle GNU/Linux Conference (SeaGL), and many of the DevOpsDays events such as DevOps Day LA and DevOpsDays Silicon Valley.

SCALE has about 15 year-round volunteers, with that number ballooning closer to 100 as we approach the conference itself. We have about a dozen different “committees” that focus on particular aspects of the event such as the onsite network, sponsorship, publicity, etc. To give you a sense of planning time lines, while SCALE 14x, our 2016 event, has not yet finished, we have already begun planning for 2017.

Over the years, our team, like our attendee base, has grown from local students to volunteers from our the world, so in-person meetings can be challenging. Only about 50 percent of the core team is Los Angeles-based at this point. As such we have moved most of our planning to online forums such as mailing lists, Google Hangouts, etc. We do try to meet in person at least once a year though.

How do you manage funds to pay for logistics and events? What’s your source of revenue?

SCALE owns the patent on velcro. Just kidding. Officially and legally, SCALE is sponsored by the, which is responsible for collecting the money and paying the bills. The bulk of SCALE’s funding comes from generous sponsorships and donations from commercial entities. While we do raise some funds via registration, we work closely with our sponsors to keep that registration fee low and accessible.

What’s the core focus of the event?

While the ‘L’ in SCALE comes from Linux, our content tends to be more focused on open source and free software in general.

Again, SCALE promotes educating people on FOSS, both how to use it and what developments are being released by various FOSS vendors. The definition of “education,” however, has broadened, just as the reach of “open source” has also broadened. We have a wide range of sessions on topics that range from easily understandable to the newest user to complex topics only understood by graduate students and long-time users.

Also, over the years, SCALE has grown to address facets of “open source” that are not directly technical. For example, we have an open source legal training track specifically to address a wide variety of topics around open source and the law. Also, in one of last year’s keynotes, Ruth Suehle talked specifically about the maker movement and how it dovetails with the FOSS paradigm.

So as FOSS continues to develop, SCALE’s core focus revolves around education, but the scope of what constitutes “open source” topics keeps expanding. We plan to stay on top of this, of course, going forward.

So is it a commercial event or pure community event?

The answer to that is: Yes. I know that’s an “either-or” question, but SCALE is both a commercial and a community event much like the open source community. It is an all-volunteer and non-profit organization that puts together the largest community-run Linux/FOSS expo in North America. However, we have gone to great efforts to ensure we have equal parts community and commercial involvement.

That’s because as FOSS has grown, many of the larger corporations like Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, MediaTemple, and this year even Microsoft – which as everyone knows is making overtures to Linux and Open Source – have realized the value of open source, and they all find SCALE, and other Linux/FOSS shows like it, of value to educating the public and promoting their products.

We also have a long roster of long-time FOSS programs on hand as well, not to mention representatives of local groups. At some shows, you have corporate booths on one end and the FOSS program, or “dot-org,” booths on the other. We don’t do it that way. You might find Hewlett-Packard next to LibreOffice next to Rackspace next to PyLadies (a group for women Python developers) next to Media Temple next to USENIX, and so on.

This year Canonical is bringing its UbuCon to SCALE. Can you tell us more about it?

As we have grown we have found ourselves to be a hub for the open source community. We have therefore been able to provide homes for open source projects such as Ubuntu, Xen, etc. to hold their own community and developer summits. UbuCon is one of many “conferences-within-a-conference” that SCALE will hold this year.  Others include Xen Project’s “Cloud Innovation Forum,” SoCal PostgreSQL, DevOps Day LA, and even Apache’s BigTop project will be holding one of their collaboration workshops.

UbuCon brings us to a new level and is definitely the largest of these co-located events. It’s an honor to be the launching pad for Ubuntu’s move back into live in-person events.  And we are excited to have Mark Shuttleworth doing double duty in the keynoting department, both at UbuCon and at SCALE 14x on Saturday.

Can you tell about some of the major speakers at the event?

Well, for starters, the keynote speakers are probably one of the best trio of speakers we’ve ever had. Science fiction writer and digital-rights activist Cory Doctorow opens Friday’s SCALE day with the keynote talk on “No Matter Who’s Winning the War on General Purpose Computing, You’re Losing.” Continuing this discussion, Saturday SCALE has Mark Shuttleworth giving his keynote about open source’s future in the world of app stores, IoT and embedded devices. On Sunday, Sarah Sharp takes the stage to talk about diversity in the wider FOSS realm.

Out of the around 185 speaker sessions in the four days, it’s really hard to pin down the best talks without running the risk of leaving out a few. But there are people on our speaker roster who are easily recognized as experts in the FOSS field, as well as new additions to the speaker roster who are also top-notch. In fact, for the new speakers — or those who want to brush up on their speaking skills — there’s a speaker seminar. So we have everything covered there.

What are the most exciting tracks this year?

We tend to have something for everyone whether you are interested in technical topics such as systems administration, kernel development, or even tracks for desktop users, and soft/cultural topics.

One exciting addition this year is our first legal training program. The program is approved by the California Bar for Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) credit, so this is a great opportunity for lawyers to get up to speed on open source issues such as licensing and compliance, while also meeting their annual education credit requirements.

Open source has won, and is now the default choice in many cases.  However, within the legal community that is not the case and while many attorneys have a great understanding of proprietary license models, open source and free software are new to them. This often results in challenging conversions between engineers and their counterparts in their organization’s legal department.  Our goal is to help alleviate this friction.

We will also once again run our SCALE Next Generation track, which focuses on opportunities for K-12 students to present on their use of open source.  This is a great opportunity to get kids involved with STEM and open source early on.

So when coming to SCALE, please remember to bring your kids and your lawyers!

Are there any tracks regarding buzzwords like containers, IaaS, Paas, OpenStack, etc.?

Our tracks and content tend to evolve with the focus of the open source community.  We can generally tell what technologies are on an upswing or at their peak by the submissions we see at SCALE.  For example one year we had enough Asterisk and VoIP submissions that we probably could have held an entire 2 day conference on that topic.

This year you will see a strong focus on cloud, containers, and security, mirroring the interests of the open source community and tech industry in general.  As such you will see quite a bit of content on projects such as Docker, LXC, OpenStack and similar tooling used to power dynamic infrastructure.

Linux has also seen a strong presence in the embedded and IoT space, with smart devices all around us being powered by Linux.  With that in mind we had added dedicated tracks focused on these topics, along with a full day of formal embedded Linux training by the Yocto Project.  Mark Shuttleworth’s keynote will touch on this trend as well as his session “Open Source in a World of App Stores”.

While they aren’t tracks per se, there are extracurricular events where geeks get to let their hair down and have some fun. Jono Bacon brings his “Bad Voltage” show to SCALE for the second year running with a live performance on Friday, right after the UpSCALE Talks, where speakers have five minutes and 20 pre-scheduled slides. Bryan Lunduke gives his celebrated, and completely tongue-in-cheek “Linux Sucks” presentation on Thursday. And on Saturday, the Weakest Geek — the FOSS game show that proves who is the geekiest among contestants — is scheduled before the world-famous SCALE Game Night.