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The last real trade show I attended was CeBIT in the early 90's when the excitement was still about Netware 4.0 about to be released. It's been a while… No longer working in a pure IT environment, and it being even longer since working in academia, SAGE/LISA seemed a little too focused for the sysadmin line of work as I'm currently practicing it. OSCON seemed to really fit the bill this year, and I think it was a good first conference of this sort for me to attend. Read on for some highlights.

The Presenters

You were in Damian Conway's tutorial? It's all downhill from here then.” So went the conversation at lunch on the first day, and in some ways my astute co-diner was correct. Damian is a dynamite presenter, one I'm sure who would give just as energetic and interesting a talk on just about any topic, but he picked the 50 things we needed to know about perl6 to start the week off with.

Having worked on several large projects using perl5, I was interested in what developments perl6 would be bringing to the table. I stopped reading the perl Apocalypses several years ago, so this was an excellent catch-up on what had been going on, what works and what's being worked on for inclusion in the next major release.

I've been using more python recently and many of the changes in perl6 had me thinking “Ah, just like python” while others were more along the lines of “ah good, the old way always bugged or confused me.” Overall, I'm really looking forward to having perl6 available. If you can nail him down, get Damian to present it for your team - you'll be glad that you did.

Darren Hoch hosted an excellent session on Linux System and Network Performance Monitoring. His paper on the topic is a good introduction and discussion on using various system tools like vmstat for profiling a system and assisting in trouble-shooting and optimization.

Valerie Aurora was on hand to give us a great session introducing us in person to btrfs. Mmmm, butter. I've been hearing good things about it and seeing some of the new features in action here got me immediately planning some system-rearranging at home so that I could put it on the field and get it some play time. Valerie gave an excellent presentation and who knew that you could go into business as a File Systems expert. Much of her presentation is included in this article.

Having sat through innumerable sales-droid presentations at a former employer - a silicon/ASIC player in the hard drive industry - I was actually feeling a tiny bit nostalgic at Theodore Ts'o's talk on the future of storage and file systems. Slides with projections of drive sizes, options, markets, costs, limitations, etc. All very interesting, especially with the changing markets and applications.

For instance, the shift from dollar per megabyte being the benchmark that ruled all decisions to now taking into account the 80GB cost boundaries between flash and mechanical drives, and random versus sequential performance. I'm sure the differences between flash and mechanical drives will soon be washed away, as it's a very fast moving R&D focus for a lot of companies, but in the mean time here in the real world stuff like this is good to keep up on for design and purchasing.

From Canonical, and the Ubuntu team, Rick Clark and Soren Hansen presented the Ubuntu plans for including Amazon EC2-like cloud computing capabilities in their server product. EC2 seems to be standing out as the de facto standard for this definition of cloud computing, and with the help of the Eucalyptus implementation it looks like they're almost there.

Rick shared with us Mark Shuttleworth's desire that they “deliver a cloud in five commands”, or at least for a very large value of five, at least today. It can be done, as their demo showed us. The polished product, which should hit the Ubuntu Server ISO in 2009 - including a virtual appliance store, support for powernap and suspend/resume - should be very well received.

Akkana Peck gave a fun talk on what she called “featherweight” Linux, or the things you can do to slim a Linux system down so that it can run on older, under-powered, laptops and like systems and devices. As a long time advocate of stripping server installs down to the bare bones, this was a refreshing look at doing much of the same with a laptop. Her presentation contains a nice list of things that you can do to really slim your portable system down.

Jumping off of programming languages, and onto the spoken kind, Michael Schwern gave a very fun and interesting talk on “How to Lie Like a Geek.” Outlining some of the differences in how us geeks and those normal folk communicate, he had some great examples showing that most of the time we communicate in ways that can come across as lying - like saying something that we believe to be true, but nuanced or opinionated, which gets interpreted as a lie. For example, “ is the root cause of your desktop problems.” While technically, this very well may be true, at least to some extent, it doesn't benefit the listener with insight into the problem at hand and rings false. That's probably not the best example, but keep in mind that I am lying to you right now. Maybe English version 17 will fix everything.

The Keynotes

There were numerous excellent keynotes, but the real standout for me was the Ignite series on the first night. Here's the video for the OSCON Ignite event, and I'll simply ask that you watch is and enjoy. Very entertaining.

Keynotes being what keynotes are - namely part marketing - the details often slide past me as soft material lacking in detail and any meaty technical or interesting content. The event, being in part sponsored by Google, included several speakers from Google with some nice insight into the state of some existing projects like Android and the Summer of Code.

There were also various speakers on government related topics, like the Sunlight Labs talk and week-long Hackathon, as well as a keynote from Gunnar Hellekson of RedHat on open government. These talks and sessions were very well received by attendees and Q&A sessions following sparked even more good discussion. There's a lot of interest in this area and from what I saw here at OSCON, a lot of involvement and increased involvement going forward.

In Summary

In summary, OSCON 2009 was an excellent event. It was very well organized, with great sessions and tutorials, speakers and keynotes. People seemed to be very interested in making sure it was held in Portland next year. I would recommend it to anyone involved in, or interested in getting involved in, open source projects. There were numerous tracks to follow and it's definitely not a programmer-only event. As a sysadmin, my day was full of material focused directly at my line of work, but I was also able to have some fun with some different topics. I hope to repeat the conference next year!

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