LISA2005 Diary: Wednesday

by Thomas A. Limoncelli

[To get this info our without further delay, this might not be as proofread as usual.]

The Usenix LISA 2005 Conference is happening this week. This is the big Open Source system administration conference. I'm trying to summarize each day's activities. Wednesday began with me receiving an award.

While the conference has had activities since Sunday, Wednesday is when the "technical session" begins and is thus the traditional "start of the conference."

Opening Plenary

Chair's Welcome: The keynote began with a presentation by conference chair David Blank-Edelman. It was hilarious and informative. He explained how the conference comes together and thanked the many people that make it happen.

Awards: He then introduced Doug Hughes who presented Christine Hogan (now Lear) and myself with the SAGE Outstanding Achievement Award for our book The Practice of System and Network Administration (see here). The Chuck Yerkles award for community involvement to Brandon Allbery for his helpful involvement on community forums.

Keynote: The keynote was by Qi Lu, VP of Engineering at Yahoo! Inc. His 1-hour presentation explained Yahoo!'s move to search that includes public (the web), private (your information), and shared (your friend's) information. For example, with Yahoo! Toolbar, when you visit a page that you like you can bookmark it, which records it into your Yahoo!-stored bookmark. You can add your own keywords and such, and mark it as viewable by your friends. Your friends do that too. Now you can do a search that takes into account the recommendations and tagging of your info and your friend's info. You have to see it to understand it, it looked really cool. Then he delighted the technical geeks in the room by explaining many of the algorithms involved. Doing that kind of thing sounds easy but once you realize that it all has to be done in real-time it becomes very difficult. He explained how their distributed computing platform works, how they use a Bloom Filters to do some of their trickiest work.

Invited Talk: Computing on Amateur Satellites

Bdale Garbee spoke about the history of amateur satellites, which surprisingly have been around since 1961! The computing on these things is very interesting because it has to be simple, inexpensive, and not require service. Oh, and since you can use a fan to cool it (think about it... you are in a vacuum) you have to get rid of heat other ways.

He didn't make comparisons to the work we do back on Earth. That's ok. At LISA, most IT talks like this don't. Some ITs teach, others entertain, others just spark creativity. This is in that last category. Relating it to our careers is the homework.

The most interesting part was the last 10 minutes when she showed that a new project will send an amateur satellite to rotate around mars. That just blows me away. I predict that if they are successful, the political ramifications will be huge and may lead to democratizing the space exploration process.

Invited Talk: What big sites can learn from small site

I gave this talk. It was based on my experience at my last two jobs where I got to work at a lot of different networks. One of which was in crisis mode when I arrived. I explained that when you are at a big site having every bit of infrastructure is important. However, at a small site you need to prioritize in an even more highly-focused manner. Working in a crisis situation crystalized for me what the key priorities are: (1) get stability, (2) get basic infrastructure in place, (3) clean up and deploy second-priority infrastructure items, (4) growth. Anything you do to get stability will be replaced when you are getting infrastructure in place, thus triage is important.

Invited Talk: What small sites can learn from small sites

My friend Strata R. Chalup gave this presentation.

She had an excellent quote which I think summarizes how I feel often:

"Suffering increases in proportion to knowledge of a better way." -Jim Hickstein
Wow. At every conference there is always one thing that I learn that is so valuable that it makes me blurt out, "ah! That just paid for the conference." For LISA2005, it was that quote.

She talked about so many good topics that I can't remember them all. Hopefully I can get a copy of her slides later. She had a really good idea about priorities in trouble-tracking systems. Nobody likes to list their request as "low priority", so instead create categories that have a number and a name particular situations: "01: end-of-quarter financial report impacted", "50: new user creation", "99: on hold / tracking". This requires extra work to investigate what the company's priorities are, but it is worth it.

Meet The Authors

I hung out with Randal Schwartz, Brent Chapman and other authors and autographed books. Ooooh... feed mah egooo. :)


I had dinner with my future co-workers at Google at P.F. Chang's. This conference facility is walking distance from the Fashion Valley Mall, which has a lot of food options. We had a blast.

BoF: Oslo University

Norway's Oslo University had a BoF (Birds of a Feather) session to promote their "Masters in System Administration" program. They use my first book as a text book, so I promised to stop by and say hello. However, I didn't get back in time.

I ended up going to a party sponsored by LOPSA. The theme of "Cheers" ("where everyone knows your name") comes to mind.

More updates in a few days.


2005-12-10 16:18:09
Acronyms are a bitch; Localisation Industry Standards Organisation.. :)


2005-12-12 17:29:07
Chuck Yerkes Award
The Chuck Yerkes Award was presented to Brandon Allbery.
2005-12-12 17:30:09
LISA originally stood for Large Installation System Administration, but the name really is just LISA now.