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SouthEast LinuxFest 2010

This past weekend I took a day to visit lovely, uh, Spartanburg, SC for the 2nd Annual SouthEast LinuxFest...

I've yet to live in an area of the country that either embraces Open Source Software (OSS) to a significant degree (Portland for instance) or is significantly populated (New York, San Francisco) or has significant university representation (Ann Arbor, Cambridge) which would allow me to get well connected in person or have large events to attend about the platforms I use regularly. Such is life, but it makes it difficult to feel engaged in the community aspects of many of the projects whose products I use on a daily basis. It also makes it difficult to learn in a quick fashion even the most basic elements about a new technology or practice that might be making its rounds at any given moment. Much to my surprise even here in "The South" there is a group of volunteers putting on a very good conference, not exceptional, not huge, but good. And for the second year, growing, and from the conversations I had with past participants improving!

The nature of the conference, i.e. a LinuxFest, makes the topic range incredibly varied as how can you have a targeted conference about all topics of a particular ecosystem as large as Linux is these days, but there were a couple of central themes--virtualization, clouds, and scalability seemed to be the common threads. (And how everyone is sick of hearing the word "cloud", but that was more unofficial.) One interesting (to me) thing I noticed was that git was talked about as if it was ubiquitous but there was a distinct lack of talks on it, has it and version control really come this far this fast?

The two keynotes revolved around community building efforts and a couple of the talks I attended had a similar bent. There were six sessions per time slot on Saturday and Sunday which helped to keep most of them small but provide something of interest for everyone throughout the day. Obviously I was only able to attend a small fraction of topics and most I chose because of something in particular that affects my daily work.

I was surprised to find a lack of "NoSQL" talks given the hype surrounding such data stores, but fortunately the first talk I attended, "Which Database Should You Choose?" ended up being a talk about the suggestion of an alternative name for "NoSQL" databases by the author of SQLite. He suggested the name be changed to "Postmodern Databases" and included a number of very funny but seemingly accurate comparisons to the postmodern philosophical and artistic movements. In the end the talk provided a nice overview of just what the NoSQL hype is all about, and despite the hype, just how important traditional RDBMS are and will continue to be. See "Why consistency is important when dealing with people's money"...or "how an expressive and full featured language makes interfacing complex data structures simpler" (even if it is one that people love to hate).

After the DB talk I moved on to a personal history of OSS from Jon "Maddog" Hall that was enjoyably informative though not necessarily overly practical, it did make me reflect on the fact that I've been running Linux for 13 years and that that is a frighteningly long time in this particular technology.

After which I attended a talk about Postfix by its author that was generally useful to someone that has "run" mail servers in the past, and dealt with SMTP from the development side, but knows that mail is more complex than any non-system admin could possibly handle. A nice overview, but it reconfirmed that I should leave this stuff to someone smarter than myself.

From there I moved to a talk about the Xen virtualization platform that was targeted at building the community around, but my primary takeaway was this thing called the Hypervisor and a better understanding of just how Xen (and the other common platforms) implement virtualization on a hardware system. As a developer on a day-to-day basis I have familiarity with running virtual machines, and I can certainly see the benefits, but I'd had very little exposure to even the basics of how they are implemented under the hood and just the short part of this talk on the Hypervisor provided a means for doing my own research after the conference (a good goal for any conference talk). Speaking of which, reading the Hypervisor page on Wikipedia is a nice place to start.

Following that I attended a talk on Puppet by the product manager at PuppetLabs. And how could I go a whole day without a talk on a CMS web platform, so I jumped into a Drupal talk.

In general a well rounded and informative day. The usual spate of informal conversations between talks and at lunch provided nice filler and a chance to interact with other OSS users of varying backgrounds and experience levels. The conference despite a few hiccups here and there was well run and kept to the schedule. As far as I could tell all sessions were videotaped so should start to appear online soon, and most presenters indicated their slides would be available shortly.

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