Originally scheduled to be held in San Francisco, Red Hat Summit 2020 opened Tuesday as an online only event due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. While it's far from the first tech conference to be moved online because of the highly contagious virus, it's perhaps the first of the plus-sized conferences to pull out all of the stops in an attempt to give conference-goers something akin to a full conference experience, even while presenters and attendees alike sit at home practicing sheltering in place.
Attendance was huge for any event, whether online or in-person. Before the lights (and sound) went out during the morning press conference, a Red Hat spokesperson said that more that 70,000 people had registered for the online summit. By comparison, the attendance at last year's in-person event broke records with an attendance of 8,900.
The same coronavirus that drove the event online was also everywhere evident at this stay-at-home conference. It could hardly be otherwise, with all the presenters conducting their sessions while seated in their homes and keynote interviews and panel discussions all in split screen (with separate domestic backgrounds for each participant).
For Red Hat Summit 2020 attendees, there was no noisy crowd to navigate between sessions and no scoping to find the nearest coffee station. Instead, there was grabbing snacks from the kitchen instead of standing in line for a catered conference lunch, then sitting wherever one pleased instead of hunting for the nearest empty chair in a crowded hall.
The COVID-19 crises dominated onscreen conversations. In an opening keynote, Paul Cormier, Red Hat's new CEO, spent over half of an interview with Ford director of enterprise architecture Eric Karsten. The two talked about pandemic issues, such as the fact that the automaker has switched production at some facilities from manufacturing cars to churning out ventilators, respirators and face shields. The company has even adapted a fan designed for the F-150 series of pickup trucks for use in ventilators, Karsten said.
Then the discussion turned to the effect the crisis is having on IT.
"Our IT organization is probably busier now than we were before the crises," Karsten said. "Our first set of actions was around working to make people productive, even from homes, so we had to spend a lot of time looking at our VPN capacity and looking at collaboration tools that we had, to insure that our product designers, our finance people, purchasing and so on could maintain that model of productivity."
He was also worried about the technical debt the company is taking on as it adds technology on-the-fly to meet immediate issues.
Even some of the big announcements Red Hat was promoting at the event were COVID-related. Cormier said in a blog post on Monday that in response to the crises, Technical Account Management would be made available to new customers at a 50% discount. The company also announced extended life cycles to products that had been scheduled to have a "hard end of maintenance" in the near future that would have required time consuming migrations or upgrades for users. Products getting the new lease on life include versions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, OpenShift, OpenShift Container Storage, Ceph Storage and Red Hat Runtimes.
In addition, Red Hat has collaborated with IBM's SkillsBuild.org to make the training path for Red Hat Certified System Administrator certification available for free to furloughed workers and other job seekers. The company is also offering a long list free online training courses, including a recently added Introduction to OpenShift Applications course, which will be available for free through June 30, 2020.
Not everything at Red Hat Summit 2020's opening day was centered around the virus, however. There was the release of Red Hat's Kubernetes platform, OpenShift 4.4, as well as announced improvements to the automation platform Ansible, plus news of a coming preview of Advanced Cluster Management for Kubernetes, a so-called “management solution” which promises to simplify the complicated task of managing container clusters across hybrid infrastructures.
And once you got out of the keynotes and into the breakout sessions, it was all about the nuts and bolts of hybrid cloud, Linux, containers, and all of the other areas in Red Hat's field of expertise.