system templar


a senior sysadmin's blog on /dev/random

My First LISA Conference

I convinced my $dayjob to spring for a trip to LISA12 in San Diego. Some places it is easier than others to convince management it’s a good idea, it wasn’t too bad for me.

For those who have never been to a LISA before, here is how it works:

Training Program

The event starts Sunday morning with training programs. Some are half day programs, and some are full day. You have to sign up in advance for what training program you want to attend*, and the training programs run until Friday. One day worth of training session(s) costs $710.00 USD (this is the usenix member price, but since joining usenix costs 50 dollars and the discount is worth $170.00 USD, pretty much everyone joins usenix). There are various deals for signing up for more training as well. The available training programs are layed out here.

Technical Sessions

The technical sessions start on Wednesday, and run through until Friday. The technical sessions are shorter (1.5 hours or so) but are generally more advanced topics than what is in the training programs. One day of technical sessions cost $405.00 USD (same 170 dollar discount applied already) or you can get 3 days of technical sessions for $965.00.

Golden Passport*

The golden passport allows you to go to any technical training, or technical session. As well, in the technical session conference rooms there are areas that are reserved seating (right at the front) for people with a golden passport. This is pretty cool, because if you decide that you don’t like the training that you are attending, you can leave and go to another one. The golden passport also comes with a cooler ID badge than everyone else, which declares to everyone that you are a golden passport holder. It costs $4,075.00 USD, and while expensive would be a great way to enjoy the conference.

Birds of a Feather

The training programs / technical sessions end at 5:00 PM, and there is a 2 hour break for dinner; after which the birds of a feather (aka bof (pronounced BOFF)) start. There are 2 kinds of bofs, a vendor bof or a individually organized bof.

A vendor bof usually has booze at the back, to entice you to attend; while the vendor either tries to sell you on their product, or sell you on working for them (they try to recruit you).

The user bofs are generally more random topics and a lot were organized at the last minute and written on the sign at the conference:

Vendor Booths

Lastly there was the Vendor area, which is what it sounds like. There were many (59) vendors that had lots of swag to hand out. This is the first conference that I have been to, that in order to get the better swag (tshirts, flashlights, etc) you needed to allow the vendor to scan your id badge (which had a 2D bar code on the back with all of your contact info. Hopefully I don’t start getting spammed like crazy, but I won’t hold my breath.

Some of my vendor highlights:

Google’s Quest for the pins:

Google gave out 1 pin to everybody, and via their site you had to do some simple sysadmin questions to progress to the next pin. There were 5 pins in total, and the questions got harder as you go, but most people attending got all 5 pins (myself included).

Rackspace’s breakfix challenge: Rackspace had 2 laptops setup with virtual machines running CentOS 6.3 that were broken, and you had to fix the virtual machine. They timed how fast you could solve the problem. Us geeks love fixing things so this was enjoyed by many. I did the challenge in ~9 minutes or so, I could have gone faster but was typo’ing a lot on the tiny laptop keyboards (and the sun was in my eyes :) ).

My Experience

This year’s LISA was held at the San Diego Sheraton which was a pretty nice hotel. Here is the view from the balcony of my room:

While attending LISA (or any conference really) I think it is a must to stay at the conference hotel. I arrived Monday evening (So I could be ready for Tuesdays training programs), pretty much right after checking in I went to the bar and asked some guys wearing geek tshirts if I could join them, and was made welcome. Almost all of the tables in the bar and lobby were occupied by people using their phones/tablets/laptops and talking shop.

Many of the conversations I had in the lobbies and hallways were worth the price of admission by itself. If you were thinking about deploying $product you could easily find some people who had already done so, and were moving on to something better, or maybe tell you horror stories of just how bad (or fantastic) $product was. Or tell you what $product_competitor was like. The best part being, that these were colleagues not salesmen, and their input was insanely valuable.

I especially enjoyed the level of expertise at the conference. There was an extremely good chance someone more expert than you was nearby and happy to talk shop.

What I did

I wanted to checkout what the training was like, but was more interested in the technical sessions. So, I did 1 day of training, and 3 days of technical sessions.

The nice thing about doing 1 day worth of technical sessions, you get a USB key loaded with the training materials for all of the technical sessions. So according to me you would be remiss if you did not do at least one day of technical training. Having the training materials is not as nice as being in the classroom, and being able to ask questions and whatnot but it is pretty cool to be able to check out. So far I’ve only gone over a few of them; but this is due to the full schedule each day provides (if you choose to go to everything).

The training/sessions run from 9:00 AM until 5:00 PM (with breaks for food), then the bofs start at 7:00 PM and run until 11:00 PM. After the bofs I would hang around in the lobby or bar until 1:00 AM talking with various groups of sysadmins.

One of the things that surprised me, was just how far some people traveled to be at LISA. I met people from Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Australia, Brazil, etc. Next year’s conference is in Washington DC, which is quite a bit further for me to travel. However, when I think about all the international travellers I met, I don’t think I should complain.

Another cool thing, was after the first day, I started to see a few familiar faces at a few of the technical sessions that I was going to, so we started to hang out in between sessions. We then made plans to go out for lunches and dinners to talk shop. Since then we have all exchanged info, and I look forwarding to talking to them on IRC (I have put quite a few names to faces on the #lopsa channel on freenode).

My Highlight Reel

My favorite training session:
NOTE: I only took 2 half day sessions
Ganeti: Your private virtualization cloud - Tom Lemoncelli & Guido Trotter

My favorite bof:
I’ve made a huge mistake (organizer unknown)

This deserves a bit of a write up. My favorite bof was a user bof entitled ‘I’ve made a huge mistake’. It was very last minute. It was was kind of like an alcoholics anonymous for sysadmins. People shared their screw ups, and what they did to fix them. It was pretty awesome (I don’t think I can repeat any of those stories), including and especially my own :) )

My favorite technical session:
15 years of DevOps
I was really floored in seeing the 15 year old slides talking about the same problems and issues that we are having now. Here is a pic of the devops talk:

My favorite quote from the conference:
(from the disruptive technology panel)
“Software is going to stick with us like Herpes.” - Theo Schlossnagle, OmniTI

The reception (Shaken, Not Stirred)

After Thursday’s events were finished at 5:00 most people dropped off their gear and grabbed a coat (it was raining and slightly chilly) and several buses took us to the ‘Grape Street Peer’. We went aboard a large boat:

and had a nice meal with an open bar, and got to play blackjack, roulette, and craps with some fake money that was handed out. It was pretty funny, because I would say 50+ percent of attendees knew how to count cards. The staff handed out extra fake money to whoever lost quickly so it didn’t really matter. As a bonus we got to keep some of the custom LISA’12 casino chips at the end of the night.

Final Thoughts

I quite enjoyed the experience, and look forward to attending another LISA. I will hopefully be going to the Washington DC one, but if not I will for sure be at the 2014 one in Seattle.

All in all, I had a great time.