June 13, 2011

2011 P4Conf: 'Version Everything' on the Verge

MERGE User Conference
Version Control
Rename the Robot
Rename meeting a new friend at the User Conference

The more software achieves and the more we digitize everything, the more we inundate ourselves with data. Perforce has built a business around managing that complexity.

At the close of the 2011 User Conference, versioning is on the verge of rippling into wider markets. The vision, as CEO Christopher Seiwald put it, is “version everything.” That’s prescient, coming from someone whose 15-year focus on an elegant solution to a pressing problem continues to pay off. “The rest of the world doesn’t yet know that version management is so important to them, just as software developers didn’t know 30 years ago about the importance of configuration management,” he said in his June 1 keynote in San Francisco.

Feature Funhouse

For three days, 330 software developers and administrators dove deep into Perforce and imagined new solutions and products. Concurrent sessions included behind-the-curtain peeks at Google, Pixar, AMD, Adobe, Samsung and many other IT giants. Meanwhile, Perforce itself had a cornucopia of important announcements, from anticipated features like streams, sandboxes, and HTML 5 compatibility to forward-thinking offerings such as:

  • Chronicle, an open-source web content management system
  • Ecosystem, an online community led by Jeff Bates of Slashdot and Sourceforge
  • AppJunction, for open source and other solutions and tools for Perforce
  • Perforce Cloud, for multitenant version control.
Demo lounge
Gabe Weiss demos Streams in the Demo Lounge.

All these efforts begin the process of positioning Perforce as not just a product, but a platform built upon a global company with a growing customer and partner base.

The enthusiasm of Perforce employees and customers alike was palpable for three days, but will it be enough to fulfill the new directions outlined by Seiwald? He’s famously still hands-on with Perforce coding, always concerned that powerful functionality doesn’t expand its small footprint.

According to Bates, Perforce’s director of cloud & online community strategies, if there’s anything to learn from his experience with Slashdot and Sourceforge, it’s that “focus and sheer dogged perseverance” is key. “The best part is, Perforce actually knows what customers want. The feedback, honesty and loyalty from the customer base puts us in a wonderful place. Just last night, there were four or five who have written tools for Perforce who are excited to put them up in the ecosystem and share them with other customers.”

What Customers Said

That collaborative boost was an eye-opener for some first-time conference attendees.

“We all have the same Perforce server, daemon, and so on. But some companies have gone beyond Perforce and wrapped their own solution around that. That’s amazing. Unless you came to the conference you wouldn’t know about those things,” said Sarthak Nayak, an engineer with Financial Engines in Palo Alto, CA.

xavier galvez
Xavier Galvez, AMD presenting “Enabling the Perforce Administrator via Mobile Device”

His colleague, senior software engineer Varsha Chopra, said she was eager to return to work and share what she’d learned about the 2011.1 revision, especially streaming and the sandbox. “I also want to learn more about Chronicle,” she said.

Another developer expressing an interest in Chronicle was H. Ward Hopeman, lead developer for Vocollect in Pittsburgh, PA. “I’m very interested in the streams beta and the Visual Studio integration. Chronicle looked cool but we just switched to a paid content management system,” he said. This was his second conference. “I was here for the 2009 conference, and then in 2010 I didn’t come but after I looked at the presentations online I said to my boss, ‘I should have been there!’”

Xavier Galvez, a senior engineer for AMD in Toronto, was a first-timer attendee and speaker. “It was a great eye-opener in the Perforce world. I find that a lot of companies, once they have a stable structure in place, the attitude is ‘if it’s not broken, why fix it?’ Here, you see what others are doing. The un-conference was fantastic -- it gave people a forum for discussing their problems and hearing solutions. The concurrent sessions were great too. It let people choose what was most interesting to them.”

No Business Like Show Business

Ultimately, that buzz was no accident. It came down to a better-produced conference than ever before in terms of staging, polish – and parties. The demo lounge was packed by day, while Thursday night, customers not afraid to face a fast pitch signed waivers and tried their hands at the batting cage at AT&T Park.

“The energy at the conference was an energy I’ve never felt before,” said Sheri Aguirre, Perforce’s head of public relations. “We truly had lots of new announcements, and we’ve never been as open about our plans. This is radical transparency.”

AT&T Park blog
Party AT&T Park!"

Want to relive the memories? Learn from Google’s extensively annotated talk? Convince your boss to send you next year? Peruse the whitepapers and slides, and stay tuned for video of the sessions coming later this month.