Linux Conf Au 2009 Hobart – Day 5

January 30, 2009 Technical, General

It was with regret that day 5 of LCA2009 came and went. But it was a blast!

Simon Phipps of Sun Microsystems delivered the keynote, which mostly amounted to a scathing attack on the current state of the open source business model. People are going to be increasingly demanding for services they are interested in buying, not what the current flock of companies are selling. You don’t want to provide support for anything but RHEL or SLES? Too bad, to make money you’ll have to provide support for Fedora and SUSE.

OK, maybe it’s not as straightforward as he made out, but it’s a realistic-enough sounding proposition. At the very least I expect the rapidly changing web development environment will be increasingly demanding of the latest and greatest tools on completely supported platforms. The choice between stable OR cutting-edge will not be sufficient anymore – we want both! Don’t expect this overnight, folks.

Shortly after our arrival in Hobart we were fortunate enough to sit down to lunch with Matthew Wilcox of Intel, so we got a sneak preview of his presentation Solid State Devices. Aside from the unstated message of “Intel SSDs Rock!” (which is being actively competed against by some of the other players in the SSD market, who are making leaps and bounds in their technology) it was very interesting to see how we have finally escaped the hard drive bottleneck. Somewhat unsurprisingly this shows up limitations in the OS storage subsystem, which was never designed to handle data at the rates SSDs can deliver and store them. It’s a similar situation to when GigE and 10GigE devices came on the market initially.

Matthew Garrett (arguably the handsomest presenter at LCA, according to some sources) gave us some food for thought with Power Management That Works. Essentially the status quo is that users are given too much control over power management, when they can’t really make accurate-enough decisions for what will save the most power. This is no longer strictly a portable computer arena, as power savings are fast becoming a critical business discipline in the data centre. It is interesting to note the technologies that are currently available in recent hardware though, such as the ability to dramatically reduce the screen refresh rate in notebooks to lower power consumption caused by repeatedly scanning the frame buffer when nothing is moving on screen.

On the other end of the scale, where more power usage is desirable, was Geek My Ride with Jonathan Oxer (former president of Linux Australia) and Jared Herbohn (a.k.a. Flame), showing off their sports cars fitted out with Linux-powered entertainment, navigation, networking and engine-computer interfaces. If having an RFID tag implanted in your arm isn’t enough to feel like lord of the geeks, being able to SSH into your car surely is.

The final presentation of the conference I decided to attend was System Administration in a Large-Scale Linux Web-Hosting Environment by Dreamhost‘s Terri Haber. Sound familiar? It’s always nice to know what the other players in the market are up to, and although the US market is much larger than what we enjoy at home the same principles apply. In fact, I hoped to learn some tricks the big boys use. Dreamhost has been around for quite some time and you would expect them to get the fundamental things about hosting right.

A common trend I find in companies of this scale and age is that since they started business at a time when many of the tools we take for granted didn’t exist, they have crafted many of these tools from scratch and customised them heavily for their own business. We use the open source tool Puppet for configuration management, but Dreamhost has their own custom configuration management tool written in object-oriented Perl. Sadly this trend continued through the presentation with their home-grown solutions. I did learn one thing though – we are designing our systems right. Could we be the next Dreamhost? Who knows.

So endeth another satisfying and richly rewarding! Lessons were learnt, beards were shaved, and maybe, just maybe, we helped save another species of native animal from extinction.