Spring 2012 FlossUK Conference

The Spring 2012 FlossUK Conference was held between 21st-22nd March in the “Informatics Forum” building at Edinburgh University.  The conference has been attended by members of the Sysdev team in the past (under both the older UKUUG and newer FlossUK banners).  FlossUK tends to be the UK’s only systems and network administration specific conference, and as such it’s always well worth the visit.

As with any conference it is not purely the workshops, talks, and presentations that make this the case, it is usually all the other bits, between talks, after the official daily schedule is complete, and at the functions, that the real benefit of a conference appears — the chance to meet others in the field, and talk more informally with the various presenters.  With that in mind I have to thank OUCS for giving me, and others in the team, the opportunity to attend.

As is usual, given the number of talks on the timetable, the conference was split into two tracks, each with double sessions between breaks.  This does mean that sometimes you pull a short straw and get stuck with one interesting, and one slightly less interesting talk in a session (they’re all interesting, just some more so than others).  However, the inevitable can-I-get-this-projector-to-work-with-my-laptop pause between speakers, and the reasonably informal tone of the conference meant that there was usually a chance to swap tracks if you were desperate to see something particular.

There was the usual mix of talks for a technical conference: talks that tell you about stuff you already do (still interesting, because you almost always learn something new due to the way implementations and environments differ); talks that tell you about super cool stuff off on the horizon; and talks about things that are just around the corner.  It is the latter that are usually the most relevant, and this was the case from my perspective.

Many of the talks have PDFs available (see the schedule for links).  Of those without directly downloadable material there are two that I’d like to mention briefly, not because they were better than the rest in anyway, but because their content is likely to be of interest/importance to Sysdev “just around the corner”.

The first was Kris Buytaert’s talk “Seven Tools for your DevOps Stack”.  Now, we may not strictly be in a “DevOps” environment (if you read through his slides you will note that the definition of “devops” is pretty extensive), but we do support our own development activities, and many of the tools he mentioned are more widely useful when viewed individually.

Sysdev is among the teams at OUCS that is taking part in the internship program, with our particular project relating to the feasibility of a central/shared logging service.  Cognisant of that I was interested to hear about some of the “measurement” tools in Kris’ talk, namely Logstash and Kibana.  They may not be perfect for our current purposes, but could potentially give us a head-start, and certainly a few ideas.

It seems that Simon Wilkinson is a perennial presenter at these events, so I wasn’t surprised to see him listed in the schedule.  This years talk was essentially a quick look back at the last 30 years of use and development of AFS (originally known as the “Andrew File System”), followed by a view of the current development roadmap.

Although not widely used at OUCS, and not viewed as an “official” service we provide in and of itself, AFS underpins a reasonable amount of our infrastructure, such as the Mirror service and Weblearn.  I was glad to see that there are several interesting things on the OpenAFS roadmap (“OpenAFS” being the Free software implementation we use).  Primarily of interest will be the introduction of per-file ACLs (currently, access control is limited to the directory level), plans for IPv6 Support, and the up-coming addition of support for Kerberos v5 encryption types (Kerberos v4 is getting rather old now…).  Other interesting developments, that wouldn’t affect the way we currently use AFS, include the enhancements to support file-system attributes (used extensively on MacOS X), and significant ongoing work on the Windows client.

Even though there was the usual backlog of email to wade through after returning, the conference was well worth attending, and I would certainly try to go again.  Besides, more than 99% of Dentists would suggest you floss regularly, and it doesn’t pay to argue with your Dentist…

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