Building a scalable and interactive platform for virtual events

Edit Subtitle Here
"They were a key part in making sure that we were able to deliver the platform’s core features and support the conference event."
– Product Manager, Autodesk 
The Challenge
Build an interactive online event experience to handle tens of thousands of users from around the world and that can scale to become the new face of Autodesk’s online experience.

The Solution

Heavily cached pages generated by Drupal, user authentication and personalized components augmented by a React frontend library with a focus on scalability, maintainability, and future proofness.

The Result

A personalized experience that allowed more than 100,000 attendees to present, listen, and converse — in real time — from 200+ countries.

The Background

In 2020, with the coronavirus pandemic all but eliminating in-person events, Autodesk University conferences needed to go virtual. AU’s main event, it’s annual global conference held in Las Vegas, would be the first to move online and would be held as a digital conference in November 2020. An estimated 60,000+ attendees would attend.

And the goal was to have attendees, who could register for the conference free of charge, be able to:
  • Stream a 24-hour live broadcast with different programming for different geographic regions
  • Watch all 700+ classes — which speakers will pre-record — as on-demand content
  • Attend 350+ live Q&As which will be scheduled by speakers who are preparing classes as instructional demos and hands-on labs
  • Participate in meetups and other community events
Community & Connection
Besides these key additions, the intent was to put a higher emphasis on community features throughout the website so that attendees can connect with each other. 

Create a scalable virtual event experience

To begin, we decoupled user authentication and personalized components from Drupal, and we tuned the existing Drupal instance to only manage and output static content. Not sexy, but necessary to handle volume and change. 

Change log-in process

With these changes, only content editors and administrators were allowed to log in to Drupal. Everyone else used the newly built React library to authenticate with Autodesk's single sign-on service.

Use existing React library

This and other new features were an advancement of our existing community-focused React library, which already provided community features like recommending content, commenting, following people, and more.

Give attendees control

We introduced a new microservice that allowed conference attendees to manage their own schedule.

Cache website content

With Drupal tuned to generate static content only, we made sure we had the most efficient CDN caching in place for the entire website content. We optimized API endpoints used by our React library to serve cached data whenever it’s feasible.
*Technical Note* We optimized API endpoints used by our React library to serve cached data whenever it’s feasible.
Technical Note

Test, test, test

We load tested to ensure the site could handle 60,000+ visitors. Good thing, because more than 100,000 attended! Even with the increased volume, the site performed as it was designed.
“Strategically, we had to decide what the best approach was — the most scalable approach, the most secure approach. And then we had to distribute the work across the three teams that were doing the development work."
Nic Brincat – Agile Project Manager, Relevant Bits

Personalize the virtual experience for every user

For a long time before the conference we had been working on a React library to provide community features in a scalable way. With that foundation in place we were able to rapidly roll out new components that showcased speakers, activity by attendees, and featured events — all geared towards the industry of the visitors.

Give attendees control

By developing a new microservice, conference attendees could manage their schedule. We built several components which utilized this data. For example, attendees were able to see their upcoming events on the homepage of the conference.

Build a reusable React framework to facilitate community

Community is core to Autodesk University’s ecosystem. AU’s worldwide events not only provide opportunities to learn and discover, but they also allow attendees to connect and build relationships with their peers. Outside of those events, the AU website helps users further develop those connections.

We created a reusable React framework that is tightly integrated into the existing website to support engagement across all pages and all content types. 

Design new ways to interact 

Users can make comments, follow other community members, share articles, and give content a ‘thumbs up’. The React library ensures this level of interaction can continue as the site — and community — grows.

Maintain flexibility

Since React components are modular, they can be edited or reused with minimal development support. Therefore, updates are truly fast and simple to make. 

An ongoing partnership

Beginning in 2018, we started with AU’s website launch project. As the trust grew, so did the projects. We continue to partner with Autodesk on a number of efforts and greatly value our ongoing relationship.

We want to build something great with you.