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Philadelphia area Linux Users Group Virtualization Roundtable Summary

On Tuesday night we hosted a Virtualization Roundtable at PLUG North meeting. To be honest, it started out as a bit of a filler event because we didn’t have a speaker, but upon mentioning the possibility the response I got was very positive. I started planning the event last month, gathered a few experts who I communicated with via email prior to the event to plan the basics and bounce questions off each other. Lee Marzke, our VMWare expert, was particularly helpful with planning, deploying a shared plone site for us to post our screenshots and notes on. Thanks Lee!

The announcement outlines the basics the event. Aside from experts on VMWare, Xen and VirtualBox, the plan was to have a guided discussion on virtualization basics, the benefits, challenges and downfalls of implementations with frequent breaks for general Q&A about virtualization.

The result? Success! Not only did we have a very impressive turn out of 25 people (our standard meeting for that PLUG chapter is about 10, our biggest meeting until Tuesday night was 14), the discussion was very lively and engaging and I’ve received several positive emails post-event saying that it was enjoyable and they intend to attend talks in the future.

Here are my notes from the event, for my own reference and in case someone else wants to run something similar:

  • 1 hour is not nearly enough. We nudged past the 1.5 hour mark and it still was a bit rushed in places and didn’t cover everything I wanted to cover. Next time shoot for 2 hours and make sure the moderator is able to keep things on track.
  • Even though it’s a discussion, we did have a structure:
    1. Introduction to virtualization, general questions, what are people attending interested in?
    2. Introduction to VMWare, Xen and VirtualBox, demos and questions
    3. General discussion – success stories, failures, standard dos and don’ts
  • Slides! The slides I wrote are very basic, giving me a visual focal point for introducing the roundtable, giving people an overview and in general driving home “this is an all level roundtable – speak up, participate, no question is dumb” etc. Our roundtable was so successful activity-wise that we stopped using the slides after the introduction, but if this wasn’t the case it would have been useful to have them to refocus the discussion.
  • I had intended to only devote 5 minutes each to a quick intro to VMWare, Xen and VirtualBox, but after questions were added and two of us ended up doing live demos, this turned into 10-15 minutes each! Oops, plan accordingly next time.
  • I’m confident that my choice of VMWare, Xen (.org – not Citrix) and VirtualBox for the showcased applications was spot on. On the surface they are competitive virtualization technologies, but upon closer inspection they really serve different segments of the market. It was fascinating during the discussion to see what different people were interested in, the modern hardware requirement and monetary investment in VMWare with all the bells and whistles certainly was of interest for some, while others cheered when I admitted that my first Xen server was hosted on a Pentium 3.
  • The roundtable format was great since it gave us the opportunity to invite free-form questions from people completely new to virtualization as well as welcome virtualization industry leaders like Mike Greb of Linode to offer their expertise.
  • The roundtable format was less great because you really need a good moderator guiding discussion and making sure all the vital points were hit upon. This was my first time hosting something like this, so I think there were a couple of tangents and I probably could have handled some of the transitions more gracefully. Oh, and going over by a half hour wasn’t fantastic, but people did still seem engaged and interested in talking even that late.
  • Have fun and be positive! I’m a huge believer that excitement is infectious. I totally geeked out over the usefulness of CLI Xen commands and the flexibility of the technology. Our VMWare expert was equally as excited and confident about the product he was presenting on.

Finally, a huge thanks to CoreDial for being such a great host (for a year now!), and this time a specific Thank You toKevin McAllister who took over being the CoreDial employee host this month from Danita Fries. He spent lots of time and effort finding and bringing in chairs for all the people who ended up showing up and squeezing into the conference room. Thanks Kevin! And thanks to everyone who attended and participated.