December 9, 2005

LISA '05 Conference: Day 2

Author: Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier

SAN DIEGO -- The second day of the LISA '05 Conference was full of interesting talks and after-hours sessions.

I began my second day at a session called "Modern Trends in UNIX and Linux Infrastructure Management." Speaker Andrew Cowie talked about trends such as virtualization, blade servers, and server consolidation. It was a pretty dry talk, though Cowie did hit on one of my pet peeves. Specifically, he dismissed the idea that a Web-based interface is the ultimate in management interfaces for appliances. These integrate poorly with other, existing systems, and tend to create some hassle for admins who have to juggle yet another password and username for a critical system.

Groundhog Day on your PC

The second talk I sat in was about solving desktop management with virtualization. Monica Lam of SkyBlue Technologies covered typical problems with thin clients and traditional PCs. The solution, at least according to Lam, is going to be ready-to-run (R2R) software, such as her company's forthcoming itPlayer, which is supposed to be released in the near future. We got a very short demo of the product at the end of Lam's presentation. The first time out, the demo crashed. The second time out, they demonstrated a virtual instance of Microsoft Windows XP being moved from Service Pack 1 to Service Pack 2 in just a few seconds.

Speaking of virtualization, one might expect a lot of interest in the topic, given the amount of buzz surrounding it these days. While there seemed to be some interest in virtualization at the conference, I've heard very few attendees talking about it.

Take two

After lunch, I caught most of Dan Kaminsky's "Network Black Ops" talk, which was rescheduled from Wednesday. It was worth the wait. Kaminsky delivered an informative and entertaining talk. One highlight was his discussion of flaws in intrusion prevention/detection systems that would allow fingerprinting of those systems by sending the right type of packets at a host. Essentially, these systems have different timeout values than their host operating system for fragmented packets. Because of that, they could allow a potential attacker to get around the intrusion prevention system by carefully crafting packets.

Advice for LISA attendees
Treat the show like your first day in high school. Show up early with a few writing implements and paper, and scout out locations before sessions start. I noticed more than a few attendees scribbling notes in the margins of their conference guides and muttering that they should have brought a notebook.

Kaminksy also demonstrated sending video through DNS, which was quite entertaining, and discussed some of his other DNS research and showed some interesting pictures derived from DNS queries.

Time management for systems administrators

LISA also features "the guru is in" sessions, which are essentially just Q&A sessions without bothering with a talk first. This is a good thing, because a lot of sessions allow very little time for questions after the main presentation, and you often learn as much (or more) via Q&A as you do from a speaker's presentation.

The guru session I sat in on was about time and project management for sysadmins. The session was split into two 45-minute sessions. The first half featured Strata Rose Chalup, who answered questions about project management, after which Tom Limoncelli, author of Time Management for System Administrators, answered questions about time management. What's interesting about both Q&A sessions is that the admins in attendance seemed to have bought into time and project management, and a large number of the attendees were seeking advice on how to see to it that their company or co-workers would embrace the ideas as well.

After hours at LISA

Technical sessions wrapped up at 5:30 p.m., and the vast majority of LISA attendees swarmed to the Atlas Ballroom for the LISA "holiday office party and gameroom," sponsored by Sun Microsystems.

The food was fairly good, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. As attendees entered the ballroom, LISA organizers handed out fake $500 bills for the blackjack and poker tables that could be converted to chips, and eventually converted to tickets for a raffle.

The big prize handed out was a full pass to technical sessions at LISA 2006. Other prizes included a set of Family Guy DVDs and Office Space on DVD. There were quite a few oohs and aahs when the pass for LISA 2006 was announced as a prize -- yet another indicator that attendees are enjoying the show.

Ethics and pain points for Linux adoption

I went to two birds of a feather (BoF) sessions after the LISA holiday party. The first session dealt with setting a code of ethics for the newly formed League of Professional System Administrators (LOPSA).

The ethics discussion was a lively one, but the next BoF -- a session to talk about which Linux distribution people were using -- was really informative.

As one might expect, a lot of admins are using Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Many are looking for ways to get away from it, but they are having problems with that because they use applications that are certified only for Red Hat. If they're lucky, the applications are also certified for SUSE, but that's of little help for admins who would like to consider Debian or a Debian derivative like Ubuntu.

Many of the people in the room had little confidence that asking their vendors for something would have any real results. Case in point: we got on the topic of being Linux Standards Base-certified rather than Red Hat-certified. Several of the admins expressed doubt that asking for LSB-certified applications would do any good, particularly if they bought a non-LSB certified application after asking for one. How quickly people forget that Linux was not an option from major vendors until customers kept asking for it.

Admins also discussed other pain points with Linux and problems with specific vendors. One of the major pain points with Linux, which should come as a surprise to no one, is binary drivers, which cause serious problems for admins when it's time to upgrade the kernel or OS.

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