With SCaLE getting ready to celebrate its 20th birthday in a few weeks at SCaLE 19x, we decided to take a deep delve into one of the best known community-focused Linux conferences.
This year SCALE, the community-focused Southern California Linux Expo, is back — live and in-person — on July 28-31. The lineup is great, and will include a closing keynote address by Vint Cerf, who’s regarded as one of the “fathers’ of the internet.”
This marks a return for the popular Linux conference that’s been held on an annual basis since December 2002. The conference skipped last year over pandemic-related concerns.
The previous year, in March 2020, SCALE was underway just as the first batches of COVID were being reported in the U.S., and this year the event had to make an 11th hour change and reschedule the event from March, when it typically happens, to July.
“SCALE 2020 kicked off during the start of the pandemic,” Ilan Rabinovitch, SCALE’s chairperson, told FOSS Force. “People were declaring states of emergency as the event was was winding down, so for many people it was the last in-person event they did. We skipped 2021, and then in 2022 we moved to the summer because there was some some surging happening in Q1.”
That rescheduling also necessitated a change in venue, away from the Pasadena Convention Center, where the event has taken place since 2016, for a return to the Hilton Los Angeles Airport, where the conference took place for five years, starting in 2011.
“With the move in dates, our normal venue in Pasadena wasn’t available, so we reverted back to the venue we had used five years ago,” he said. “The nice thing is we know all the tricks and challenges that exists with that venue, and we can pull up our notes and work around them.”
As happy as the SCALE folks are to have found a familiar venue that could accommodate them on relatively short notice, Rabinovitch said SCALE intends to return to Pasadena for next year’s event.
“We’re excited to be back in at the Pasadena Convention Center in 2023,” was how he put it.
Why No Digital SCALE During the Off Year?
Although the majority of tech conferences that were forced to shut their doors to live audiences during the worst days of the pandemic chose to launch online versions of their conferences, SCALE went dark for the year instead.
“We did not do an online version,” Rabinovitch said. “We thought about it. We’re a technology conference so we’re all big on tech, but we think that a large part of what makes SCALE special is that it’s basically a reunion for a number of people in open source and in the tech community. It’s an opportunity to get together, and as much as people enjoyed Zoom during the pandemic, as soon as they could get back together in person, they wanted to get back together in person.”
“We thought we’d take the break, and that was the first and only time in the 20 years since we started SCALE that we did,” he added.
One of the reasons why the folks at SCALE didn’t feel compelled to scurry to launch a digital conference is probably because unlike many other conferences, the primary purpose at SCALE isn’t to sell products. While plenty of product pitches do take place at SCALE, its mandate, so far as it has one, is to foster community.
SCALE in the Day of LUGS
In 2002, when SCALE was getting started, the 11-year-old Linux operating system was just beginning to find its footing in the data center. That was the year that IBM’s CEO, Louis Gerstner, announced that Big Blue was investing a billion dollars in the OS, a move that eventually led to Linux’s dominance among enterprise users. Back then, tech savvy home users were much more important to the the Linux ecosphere than they are now.
For those early home users, Linux wasn’t nearly as easy to use as it is today and required a certain amount of technical expertise. This gave rise in the 1990s and early 2000s to Linux User Groups or LUGS, which not only advocated Linux use, but helped would-be new Linux users get started with “install fests,” and offered help for people having trouble with a Linux machine, who could bring their computers to a LUG meeting where someone with more expertise could diagnose and fix their problem for them.
“That was the heyday for LUGS, and with LA being as spread out as it was, there were probably 30 different LUGs across the city, each in their own little neighborhoods,” Rabinovitch said, speaking about SCALE’s genesis. “People were kind of into their own little pockets, and we didn’t get to see each other, so one thing that SCALE offered was that it became sort of like the annual reunion for all of these groups to get together and meet in person.
“The other thing was, as students at the LUGs, we wanted to bring in these these luminaries, these people that we all looked up to. We wanted them to come out to join us and speak with us, and you say to them, ‘Hey, can you come to my meetup with 10 people’ and they go, ‘I’m not gonna fly from San Francisco or Australia or New York or wherever for a 10 person meetup,’ but if I tell them there’s a large conference, they’ll come for that. So we thought, if we start a conference they’ll have to show up because they’ll want to be there. Turns out it’s not that easy.
“That’s where SCALE came from. We wanted to see our friends, we wanted to learn from from leaders in the space, and we wanted to pass on that knowledge to others.
SCALE in the 2020s
Does this mean that SCALE is stuck in a past that no longer exists? Far from it.
“We’ve evolved quite a bit from that humble start, from being just a local community thing or just a bunch of students” Rabinovitch said. “We get folks coming from all over the world. We’re always surprised by how far people are willing to fly to come to SCALE.”
Rabinovitch said that SCALE’s approach is to offer a unique blend that straddles both the commercial and community aspects of open source, adding that the approach is mainly a mirror of where Linux and open source are today.
“Open Source has grown up a lot,” he said. “It used to be, in the late ’90s and early 2000s, that open source was not a thing you did at companies, it was a thing you did yourself. As that’s changed, it turns out that some of the world’s experts in Kubernetes work for companies that sell Kubernetes as a distribution or solution. We want to bring in those experts, but it’s really important that our content also be very practitioner-focused, because we are a conference put together by users and lovers of open source and free software.
“We have to mix the two together as much as we can,” he added. “Sometimes it’s a struggle, but it’s something we put a lot of effort into.”
What to Expect at SCALE 19x
This mix, which includes everyone from developers, DevOps teams, and sysadmins to folks who deal with licensing issues or community management, can be seen by taking a quick gander at SCALE 19x’s schedule (19 instead of 20 because of the pandemic caused year without a conference).
For example, on Friday July 29, there will be a seven-hour workshop on “Getting Started with FreeBSD” and two sponsored two-hour preparation sessions for Linux Professional Institute exams, as well as two other sponsored workshops, one on automating and orchestrating processes using the Camunda platform, and the other on Managing Jenkins at SCALE using CloudBees CI.
These are in addition to at least 24 sessions what will include everything from technical subjects such as Kubernetes, MySQL, and security to non-technical subject such as licensing, open governance, and combating surveillance.
Also, Friday will be “DevOpsDay LA” day, with about eight sessions focused on the DevOps development and deployment model.
Saturday and Sunday have similar offerings. On both days there will be “Hands On Beginner Linux Training” workshops, which look as if they might be something like the “install fests” of old. These requires pre-registration and come with a $25 fee — make sure to select “Beginner Linux Training” at registration. Might be good for that friend or neighbor who’s been thinking about making a move away from Windows.
On Saturday, about 45 sessions are currently on the schedule, with another 15 slated for Sunday. Again, session topics run the gamut from hard core tech (systemd, Kubernetes, Podman, edge, testing, security, patching, and more) to non-technical open source subjects (community, GPL, Education, funding, and the like).
On Saturday, an opening keynote will be given by Aeva Black (Office of the CTO at Microsoft Azure, board member at Open Source Initiative, and a member of OpenSSF’s technical advisory committee), who will talk about how the recent spate of open source vulnerabilities impact developers and users of OSS software. Again, Sunday’s closing keynote will be from Vint Cerf (currently Chief Internet Evangelist at Google but most well known for his early work with ARPANet and the internet around TCP/IP).
“He’s going to be sharing with us how open source helped influence the internet,” Rabinovitch said. “I don’t know if the internet would have been as successful as it is today had every implementation of all of the key protocols and underlying underpinnings been closed, proprietary and unadoptable by everybody. We wouldn’t have gotten very far.”
How to Attend
Wanna go? It’s easy (assuming you can get to Los Angeles). All you have to do is register.
It’s also inexpensive, especially when compared to open source conferences that want you to fork out hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to walk through the door.
An Expo Pass, which offers access to the exhibit hall (open on Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday) and free events will set you back $20. A SCALE Pass, which we recommend, will get you access to all SCALE sessions, the exhibit hall, and free events for only $90. As a bonus, the SCALE pass also includes a Kids Companion Pass for one child under the age of 18. Request a Kids Companion Pass at the registration desk on the day of the event (and have your child with you when you do).
For those who can’t make the trip, the keynotes and many of the sessions at this year’s SCALE will be lived streamed, and all sessions will be made available online for on-demand viewing at a later date.
Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux