Simon's Musings

March 27, 2009

UKUUG Spring Conference

Filed under: Uncategorized — sxw @ 12:16 pm
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I’ve just returned from the spending 3 days in London at the UKUUG Spring Conference. I presented a Kerberos tutorial on the first day, and spent the following 2 as a conference delegate. The tutorial was well attended, with over 50 people there on the day, and seemed to go really well with a lot of good feedback from the attendees.

The second and third days were taken up with the conference proper. There seemed to be more delegates than in previous years, although the number of talks was smaller, with only one conference track. Whilst holding the conference in London obviously served to increase its appeal to those living locally, the venue wasn’t entirely ideal. Whilst the space for the talks was fine, there was a lack of break out and foyer space, making lunch and coffee breaks a scramble for space, and in depth conversations out of the conference hall harder.

The talks themselves covered a good mixture of topics, with security, LDAP and monitoring being particularly prevalent. The conference started with a presentation from Barry Scott of Centrify about integrating Unix boxes with Active Directory.  This gave a good overview of the situation (and said some nice things about the Kerberos tutorial), but talked more about their commercial product than what was possible with the available open source tools. From my perspective, this was a slightly missed opportunity, although the overview would have been of use to anyone contemplating that integration.

Later in the day,  Andrew Findlay gave a very strong and well presented talk on LDAP access control policies. (there is also a pdf paper) Whilst this continued the logical progression from what Andrew’s said about LDAP ACLs at previous conferences, it wrapped all of his current thinking up into a single, easily digestible block. It reconfirmed some of my design choices with prometheus, and challenged others. 

After lunch, there was a “Systems Monitoring Shootout“, comparing the features of various different systems monitoring packages. There were some really interesting ideas in here, including the use of NagiosGraph to produce rrd files which can then be used for trend and capacity analaysis. Following this, Jane Curry presented on ZenOss, a Zope based network monitoring tool. This appeared to be more network focussed than the service focus of Nagios, with lots of features like automatic device discovery and a very pretty looking interface. However, nothing that convinced me we should drop Nagios and use it instead. Finally in this session we had a very well presented skip through the … interesting … things you could do the the SCSI bus with sysfs, and the power of lvm in terms of disk management. 

In the final session of this day, Darren Moffat from Sun ran through some of the security features in Open Solaris. As well as a name check for my OpenSSH work, Darren talked about the new concept of role users, the move towards privileges in the kernel, and the additional RBAC work that’s in OpenSolaris. He also trailed the encryption features which will shortly be appearing in ZFS. All in all, a fascinating talk.

After Gavin Henry had talked about the replication strategies currently available in OpenLDAP, Howard Chu gave a great talk about its new MySQL NDB backend. Primarily developed with telco grade customers in mind, this allows you to share your database between MySQL and OpenLDAP, and take advantage of NDB’s clustering properties to linearly scale your load by simply adding more servers. The downside is that there are fixed constraints on attribute set size and tree depth. So, not a new general purpose backend, but a real insight into the large scale deployments that Symas is doing with OpenLDAP. I took the opportunity to quiz Howard about API stability for overlays – his answer unfortunately confirmed my view that the API isn’t stable enough to let us use them for prometheus.

Continuing the telco theme, Craig Gellen spoke about OpenNMS, a network management system which was designed from the ground up for large scale enterprise and telecommunications customers. Again, this system seems more network than systems monitoring focussed, and probably far too complex for our needs, but it was really interesting to see a piece of Open Source software which is specifically targeted at this market.

The final session started with a couple of virtualisation talks. Kris Buytaert talked about the current, and ever shifting, state of the Open Source virtualisation world, including a discussion of the current allegiances of the major vendors. Following this openQRM, an open source, virtual datacentre management tool, was presented. Matthias Rechenburg’s talk focussed in particular on cloud computing. OpenQRM has an automated provisioning model, where a user can use a web interface to request (and pay for!) a certain amount of time on a certain number of auto built virtual machines. The talk concluded with a demo that both worked, and held the audiences attention – no mean feat!

Alex Howells from Gradwell gave the final talk of the day – a tour of the major external security threats he’s become aware of during his time managing systems for Bytemark and Gradwell. This was a detailed look at the common security issues on today’s internet, as well as giving helpful advice on how to counter them. Whilst some things (for example using fail2ban on external facing services) would be easy to put into practice here, others (requiring code review for everything that runs on a web server) wouldn’t be appropriate to our environment. All in all though, this was a good talk, containing a lot of things to ponder, and a great way to end the conference.

Despite having a smaller set of talks than in the past, the technical content of the conference seemed stronger than it has been in the last couple of years. Having a single track did help to improve its focus, although the reduction in moving around, coupled with the lack of break out space did reduce the opportunities to interact with other delegates. The UKUUG are changing the focus of their Summer Conference (which has typically been Linux based) to encompass a very wide scope, some of which overlaps with the LISA focus of this event. I suspect its long term future remains to be seen.

All in all, though, I think the UKUUG Spring Conference is a very useful event to attend.

Theme: Rubric.