What it was like presenting at Cloud Field Day

Presenting at a Gestalt IT “Field Day” (Cloud Field Day in this case) was very different than being a delegate. So I thought I’d blog about it – just like a delegate.

What is Cloud Field Day?

Cloud Field Day is an event put on by Gestalt IT, a company founded by Stephen Foskett (@sfoskett). They put on a variety of “Field Day” events, originally just called Tech Field Day.  They branched out into Storage Field Day, Networking Field Day, Wireless Field Day, and Cloud Field Day.

They bring in a group of 10+ influencers from around the world, each of which has some type of audience. Delegates, as they are called, can be anything from someone with a “day job” in IT who just blogs part time for fun, to someone who is now making money full time as a blogger, speaker, or analyst.  The one thing they have in common is that they are independent; they cannot be employed by a vendor in the space.

I’ve been a delegate to a number of Field Days, and it’s definitely easier being on that side of things. It’s easier to listen to a vendor’s pitch and ask questions than it is to be the vendor making that pitch and answering questions. It’s easy to question why they’re doing something, or to “poke holes” in their strategy.  I can remember a few times where I and my fellow delegates thought the vendor was way off base.  I can even remember one time when it was so bad that the consensus among the delegates was that the start-up in question should immediately go out of business and return any remaining investor money.  (For the record, we were right, and that actually happened to that particular company.)

In all of those field days as a delegate, I was never stressed about being there. It’s quite enjoyable as a delegate.  You’re flown in, driven around in a limo, and constantly fed and catered to.  The only time I remember feeling any “stress” (if I can call it that) is when I found myself on the delivery end of a heated discussion. Even though I felt I was very justified in what I was saying, it’s still stressful being the center of attention in a heated argument that is being streamed live.

Presenting is very different

Being a former delegate made me more nervous, not less. I knew how probing delegates could be. I knew the messages I wanted to get across, but I wondered how those messages would be received.  I also knew that the delegates often drive the presentation, and they can be difficult to “redirect” once they grasp onto a concept they want to discuss.

For example, I watched as one Cloud Field Day 3 presenter before me “lost the room” for quite a while as the delegates debated a related technical topic. I remember thinking how would I handle that if it happened to us. You don’t want to stifle discussion, but you also need to make sure you communicate your message.

We survived

Based on the coverage we received, I think we communicated the core messages we wanted to get across, although it didn’t resonate equally on all ears. Each delegate comes with their own experiences and bias, and you can’t cater to them all.

For example, I think the delegates understood how we are the only data protection product designed for the AWS infrastructure, automatically scaling the resources we use up and down using the AWS native load balancing apps.  We are also the only ones using AWS’ DynamoDB to hold all metadata and S3 to hold all backups. (Other products can copy some backups to S3; we store all of them there.) And I think they understood how that should drastically affect costs that we pass onto the customer.

What I didn’t anticipate was that being designed for the AWS infrastructure would not resonate with those who are proponents of the Azure infrastructure. We were asked why aren’t we running there as well. The answer is two-fold.  Because we are actually designed to use AWS’ native tools (e.g. load balancer, DynamoDB, S3), we can’t just move our software over to Azure. We would need an entirely separate code stack on Azure, so the level of effort is significantly different than those who just run their software in VMs without using native tools. Their approach is more expensive to deliver; ours requires additional coding to move platforms.  Secondly, we just don’t get a big demand for native support in Azure. Most customers don’t care where we run our infrastructure – and don’t have to.  But I can understand how that would fall on deaf ears of an Azure advocate.

But the biggest challenge we ran into with this crowd is not everyone was convinced that backing up to the cloud is the way to go for datacenters. I should have known better, being a former delegate, that technical types are going to think about these things, and we need to address them before they can think about anything else.

If I had a Do-over

I would explain the benefits of our approach before I explain what it was.  I did cover the benefits, but after the architecture. I should have done it the other way around. Cover the problem and what parts of it we solve – then cover how we solve it. Pretty standard stuff really.  But I got excited talking to a technical audience and went technical first. While the field day audience doesn’t want 10 slides on how data is growing, etc, they do want some description of the problem you’re solving before you explain how you solve it.

I would also address the “elephant in the room” first, and explain that our model of backing up everything to the cloud will probably not scale to backup a single datacenter with multiple petabytes. (We do have customers who store double-digit numbers of petabytes with us, but not all from one datacenter.)

I could then explain that we scale farther than you probably think. And since most companies don’t have datacenters like that, why force them to use an approach that is designed for that (onsite hardware). If you could meet your backup and recovery needs without any onsite hardware, why wouldn’t you?

Cloud Field Day is awesome

It’s a bit of a public trial by fire, but it’s a refining fire.  I learned a lot about how to present our solution by presenting at Cloud Field Day. I’d recommend it to everyone.  I know we’ll be back.

----- Signature and Disclaimer -----

Written by W. Curtis Preston (@wcpreston). For those of you unfamiliar with my work, I've specialized in backup & recovery since 1993. I've written the O'Reilly books on backup and have worked with a number of native and commercial tools. I am now Chief Technical Architect at Druva, the leading provider of cloud-based data protection and data management tools for endpoints, infrastructure, and cloud applications. These posts reflect my own opinion and are not necessarily the opinion of my employer.

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