Thursday, November 02, 2006

Startup Camp Day 1

As I hoped, I'm at startup camp today and tomorrow. The sessions I attended today have been focussed on technical infrastructure and financing. It's an unconference which means the sessions are determined on the fly. This makes the content of the conference much more dynamic and focussed on the interests of whoever shows up - as you would expect this is a little more chaotic than a structured conference. When it works, it's great.

The day started with a big empty schedule and various people suggested sessions. This is what I went to:

Web Scale Computing / Jeff Barr from

A session on Virtual Hosting for startups - basically it turned into a discussion about using Amazon Elastic Computing Cloud (EC2) and S3 as a hosting service with the ability to add capacity as needed. Jeff Barr from Amazon made a concerted effort to keep it from being a product specific session and I found it quite interesting.

The feedback from some was that the services are a little pricey and that setting up a machine image for EC2 (which is still Beta) can be difficult. Jeff made the point that Amazon expects a lot of value added services to be built on top of EC2 - this is really utility computing. For example, EC2 doesn't provide load balancing or dynamically adding machines based on load. It's possible 3rd parties will be able to resell this capability - you also get bare (virtual) hardware so building up a linux distro images is up to you. Since some segment of customers are going to want somewhat vanilla web hosting with dynamic load (along the lines of what MediaTemple offers), I suspect Amazon will add this at some point.

It also seems to be the case that if you want to store data persistently, you really need to use S3 rather than something like MySQL. Jeff has a post on using EC2 / S3 to avoid a "Success Disaster" (aka slashdotting) which makes a lot of sense.

Financing Startups with Angel Financing / Jeff Clavier

Jeff gave a series of sessions on different aspect of startup financing and there were a couple of other VCs (Rick Segal) and Angel Investors on hand more or less just answering questions from the audience. It seemed apparent that in a lot of cases, a startup can get at least to the prototype phase by self financing and maybe only needing angel money to get to profitibility - being focussed on the product rather than focussed on chasing the ethereal VC money seems a lot more sensible to me. My favorite quote from the session: "Don't get on the train if you don't like where it goes"

Lunch / Best Startup Contest

The Best Startup Contest (aka "Speed Geeking") is 5 min startup company pitches times 30 companies - every 5 minutes an air horn goes off. You get woozy after a while. When you see a startup that you want to vote for, you give them your wooden nickel. All I will say is it's a tiny window into what being a VC must be like...

Cost Effective Web Tier Infrastructure / Joe McCabe of Sun Microsystems

This was one of the better sessions I attended. Matt Mullenweg from Wordpress talked about many of the things they did right (and a lot of the things they did wrong) along the lines of Cal Henderson's Building Scalable Websites. Some of the highlights:

  • doesn't use sessions - all of the state is in the cookies so they don't have to replicate session data across all the web servers (requires carefully thinking out the security issues)
  • They use MySQL replication to replicate the database between datacenters.
  • They store blogs into a MySQL database partitioned into 4096 separate databases based on the first 3 characters in the name. Partitioning the database is the only way to increase the number of simultaneous writes in MySQL.
  • They use a 5 min TTL on the DNS entry and round robin DNS - if a datacenter goes down (and apparently it does), it can be removed from the DNS list.
  • There was some suggestions from Joe McCabe about using Amazon EC2 as a failover mechanism when sites have high load - running the site on a hosted solution and just adding EC2 machines as necessary.

More Startup Camp Photos


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