As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Open Compute Project Foundation was forced to go digital by transforming their Global Summit into their first OCP Virtual Summit.
All the content was ready to go, organisations were ready to make big announcements at the show, flights had been booked and the stages were set for the Global Summit in San Jose, California.
But in a tense and difficult decision, OCP cancelled their largest event of the year on the Friday before it was planned to start on Tuesday 3 March.
“It was really beyond our control. Many members of OCP, sponsors and content providers received edicts from their organisations that said they can’t go to large meetings as a result of the pandemic,” said Dirk Van Slyke, Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer of OCP.
To find an alternative, the OCP team still met in San Jose with their production partner to strategise a plan.
Mr. Van Slyke said: “It was out of necessity to recoup all this wonderful content and this interest and momentum within the industry.”
The collaborative Community, which strives to optimise all parts of a data center, found a solution in hosting a Virtual Summit between 12 May and 15 May.
“At the end of the day, we are the enablers of collaboration, so we’ve got to provide a framework by which that can happen,” said Mr. Van Slyke.
OCP kept the collaborative nature of the Virtual Summit alive with panel discussions, live question and answer sessions as well as engineering workshops.
Collaboration on a massive scale
Originally, OCP forecasted between 3,800 and 4,000 attendees for the Global Summit. The Virtual Summit attracted more than 11,000 delegates, with a greater global reach across more than 100 countries.
The collaborative organisation received mostly positive feedback and a better understanding of the limitations of going digital.
“What was missing was those powerful 1-on-1 conversations where a lot of collaboration happens,” said Mr. Van Slyke.
At this time, there is no perfect solution to enable 1-on-1 connections in a virtual space. Mr. Van Slyke identified that there are still difficulties with ensuring privacy of delegates, as ‘you can’t just make everybody’s contact details available’, and the ability to opt-in to a meeting can be cumbersome and difficult on online platforms.
Like many organisations, OCP was concerned that offering virtual elements like live streamed keynotes during their Global Summit would cut back on physical attendance.
“At the end of the day, what we’re hearing from the community is that nothing can replace a 1-on-1 in-person meeting. But if we want to bring a broader audience to the table as well, I don’t think we would sacrifice too much on the attendance side by live-streaming some of those sessions and keynotes,” added Mr. Van Slyke.
Moving forward, OCP will look to incorporate some of the virtual components back into their live events to empower remote collaboration.
“We’re just optimistic that by March of 2021 we will be through this enough to be able to hold our in-person Summit,” said Mr. Van Slyke.
OCP is actively working to figure out their schedule between now and March 2021.
“That’s a ten-month chasm that we’ve created that we’ve got to fill, so we are polling the Community to find out what their needs are,” he added.
OCP is looking at some interesting ideas and applications to make it feel like there are even more people tuning in virtually during an in-person event.
The biggest takeaways from the OCP Virtual Summit
OCP’s VP of Channel Development, Steve Helvie, identified three key takeaways from the Virtual Summit. The first was the ability to consume more content.
“When you’re at a physical event, it is great for the personal connections, but many times you miss a lot of the great content. When you get back to the office and your workday resumes again, you lose the ability to go back and listen to all the great content,” said Mr. Helvie.
The second was the ability for OCP members to convey the right type of message by organising the content in a way that was tailored to a cohesive theme. And third was the sheer audience reach enabled by the online event.
“The number of countries that are able to consume this now is something we would never achieve at a physical event,” he added.
In the future, OCP will look to expand on this reach and drive awareness in markets that may have been more difficult to penetrate without the power of a digital platform.
Other big news coming from the OCP Virtual Summit was the announcement that Google had become an Executive Member and will hold a seat on OCP’s Board of Directors.
“Google’s new board participation further represents how fundamental open hardware continues to be within the industry, and the only way we’ll continue to drive innovation within the industry is together,” said Mark Roenigk, Chair of the Board of Directors for OCP.
The new Director will be Dr. Parthasarathy Ranganathan, a distinguished Engineer at Google.
Dr. Ranganathan said: “We look forward to extending our involvement with the OCP Community to help drive greater choice and agility for the industry.”