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Ohio LinuxFest 2016

Last month I had the pleasure of finally attending an Ohio LinuxFest. The conference has been on my radar for years, but every year I seemed to have some kind of conflict. When my Tour of OpenStack Deployment Scenarios was accepted I was thrilled to finally be able to attend. My employer at the time also pitched in to the conference as a Bronze sponsor and by sending along a banner that showcased my talk, and my OpenStack book!

The event kicked off on Friday and the first talk I attended was by Jeff Gehlbach on What’s Happening with OpenNMS. I’ve been to several OpenNMS talks over the years and played with it some, so I knew the background of the project. This talk covered several of the latest improvements. Of particular note were some of their UI improvements, including both a website refresh and some stunning improvements to the WebUI. It was also interesting to learn about Newts, the time-series data store they’ve been developing to replace RRDtool, which they struggled to scale with their tooling. Newts is decoupled from the visualization tooling so you can hook in your own, like if you wanted to use Grafana instead.

I then went to Rob Kinyon’s Devs are from Mars, Ops are from Venus. He had some great points about communication between ops, dev and QA, starting with being aware and understanding of the fact that you all have different goals, which sometimes conflict. Pausing to make sure you know why different teams behave the way they do and knowing that they aren’t just doing it to make your life difficult, or because they’re incompetent, makes all the difference. He implored the audience to assume that we’re all smart, hard-working people trying to get our jobs done. He also touched upon improvements to communication, making sure you repeat requests in your own words so misunderstandings don’t occur due to differing vocabularies. Finally, he suggested that some cross-training happen between roles. A developer may never be able to take over full time for an operator, or vice versa, but walking a mile in someone else’s shoes helps build the awareness and understanding that he stresses is important.

The afternoon keynote was given by Catherine Devlin on Hacking Bureaucracy with 18F. She works for the government in the 18F digital services agency. Their mandate is to work with other federal agencies to improve their digital content, from websites to data delivery. Modeled after a startup, she explained that they try not to over-plan, like many government organizations do and can lead to failure, they want to fail fast and keep iterating. She also said their team has a focus on hiring good people and understanding the needs of the people they serve, rather than focusing on raw technical talent and the tools. Their practices center around an open by default philosophy (see: 18F: Open source policy), so much of their work is open source and can be adopted by other agencies. They also make sure they understand the culture of organizations they work with so that the tools they develop together will actually be used, as well as respecting the domain knowledge of teams they’re working with. Slides from her talk here, and include lots of great links to agency tooling they’ve worked on: https://github.com/catherinedevlin/olf-2016-keynote


Catherine Devlin on 18F

That evening folks gathered in the expo hall to meet and eat! That’s where I caught up with my friends from Computer Reach. This is the non-profit I went to Ghana with back in 2012 to deploy Ubuntu-based desktops. I spent a couple weeks there with Dave, Beth Lynn and Nancy (alas, unable to come to OLF) so it was great to see them again. I learned more about the work they’re continuing to do, having switched to using mostly Xubuntu on new installs which was written about here. On a personal level it was a lot of fun connecting with them too, we really bonded during our adventures over there.


Tyler Lamb, Dave Sevick, Elizabeth K. Joseph, Beth Lynn Eicher

Saturday morning began with a keynote from Ethan Galstad on Becoming the Next Tech Entrepreneur. Ethan is the founder of Nagios, and in his talk he traced some of the history of his work on getting Nagios off the ground as a proper project and company and his belief in why technologists make good founders. In his work he drew from his industry and market expertise from being a technologist and was able to play to the niche he was focused on. He also suggested that folks look to what other founders have done that has been successful, and recommended some books (notably Founders at Work and Work the System). Finaly, he walked through some of what can be done to get started, including the stages of idea development, basic business plan (don’t go crazy), a rough 1.0 release that you can have some early customers test and get feedback from, and then into marketing, documenting and focused product development. He concluded by stressing that open source project leaders are already entrepreneurs and the free users of your software are your initial market.

Next up was Robert Foreman’s Mixed Metaphors: Using Hiera with Foreman where he sketched out the work they’ve done that preserves usage of Hiera’s key-value store system but leverages Foreman for the actual orchestration. The mixing of provisioning and orchestration technologies is becoming more common, but I hadn’t seen this particular mashup.

My talk was A Tour of OpenStack Deployment Scenarios. This is the same talk I gave at FOSSCON back in August, walking the audience through a series of ways that OpenStack could be configured to provide compute instances, metering and two types of storage. For each I gave a live demo using DevStack. I also talked about several other popular components that could be added to a deployment. Slides from my talk are here (PDF), which also link to a text document with instructions for how to run the DevStack demos yourself.


Thanks to Vitaliy Matiyash for taking a picture during my talk! (source)

At lunch I met up with my Ubuntu friends to catch up. We later met at the booth where they had a few Ubuntu phones and tablets that gained a bunch of attention throughout the event. This event was also my first opportunity to meet Unit193 and Svetlana Belkin in person, both of whom I’ve worked with on Ubuntu for years.


Unit193, Svetlana Belkin, José Antonio Rey, Elizabeth K. Joseph and Nathan Handler

After lunch I went over to see David Griggs of Dell give us “A Look Under the Hood of Ohio Supercomputer Center’s Newest Linux Cluster.” Supercomputers are cool and it was interesting to learn about the system it was replacing, the planning that went into the replacement and workload cut-over and see in-progress photos of the installation. From there I saw Ryan Saunders speak on Automating Monitoring with Puppet and Shinken. I wasn’t super familiar with the Shinken monitoring framework, so this talk was an interesting and very applicable demonstration of the benefits.

The last talk I went to before the closing keynotes was from my Computer Reach friends Dave Sevick and Tyler Lamb. They presented their “Island Server” imaging server that’s now being used to image all of the machines that they re-purpose and deploy around the world. With this new imaging server they’re able to image both Mac and Linux PCs from one Macbook Pro rather than having a different imaging server for each. They were also able to do a live demo of a Mac and Linux PC being imaged from the same Island Server at once.


Tyler and Dave with the Island Server in action

The event concluded with a closing keynote by a father and daughter duo, Joe and Lily Born, on The Democratization of Invention. Joe Born first found fame in the 90s when he invented the SkipDoctor CD repair device, and is now the CEO of Aiwa which produces highly rated Bluetooth speakers. Lily Born invented the tip-proof Kangaroo Cup. The pair reflected on their work and how the idea to product in the hands of customers has changed in the past twenty years. While the path to selling SkipDoctor had a very high barrier to entry, globalization, crowd-funding, 3D printers and internet-driven word of mouth and greater access to the press all played a part in the success of Lily’s Kangaroo cup and the new Aiwa Bluetooth speakers. While I have no plans to invent anything any time soon (so much else to do!) it was inspiring to hear how the barriers have been lowered and inventors today have a lot more options. Also, I just bought an Aiwa Exos-9 Bluetooth Speaker, it’s pretty sweet.

My conference adventures concluded with a dinner with my friends José, Nathan and David, all three of whom I also spent time with at FOSSCON in Philadelphia the month before. It was fun getting together again, and we wandered around downtown Columbus until we found a nice little pizzeria. Good times.

More photos from the Ohio LinuxFest here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157674988712556

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