Conferences 2013 Conference Report

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Tim Berners Lee

Conference Report by Glen Turner, AARNet’s Network Operations Regional Manager (South Australia).

Glen talked on “CWDM for sysadmins” at this year’s Sysadmin Miniconf is Australia’s premier conference about the Linux operating system, open source software and open society. This year’s conference was held in January at the ANU in Canberra and about 750 people attended.

The conference is unusual: presentations are often highly technical, the conference is planned and run entirely by volunteer effort, and hosted in a different city each year.

These variations make each different. This year’s was notable for the fame of its keynote speakers.

  • Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world-wide web, spoke on open data and open society, especially the prosecution and persecution of his lab colleague Aaron Schwartz.
  • Radia Perlman, the inventor of spanning tree and the driving force behind the IS-IS link state routing protocol, spoke about her experiences developing networking protocols, working with standards committees and her new data centre protocol TRILL.

It says something about the speaking talent at this that the presence of Linus Torvalds was hardly notable or noticed (which is just the way Linus likes it).

Each successive has a higher quality of speaker. This year’s speakers were superb. The range of topics lead to unenviable choices at every session, often between a talk within your discipline to bring your knowledge up-to-date, or a talk about which you know nothing by one of the best in the field.

Within the field of computer networking the standout presentation was Stephen Hemminger’s demonstration of egress queues, simulated using clear pipes, buckets, taps, coloured water and a wading pool.

There was an extensive series of presentations on the OpenStack cloud delivery technology. This was an example of being an excellent opportunity for training. If you focused on the OpenStack presentations you could leave the conference with an up-to-date and deep understanding of the new technology of the self-hosted cloud.

Stepping outside the field of networking, there were fascinating presentations on the use of Linux in hobbyist satellite systems. Arduino hardware and other small system-on-a-chip boards were everywhere: data logging, environmental alerting, even avionics systems for hobbyist-build drones. Tasks once done by dedicated hardware are now done by adapting small general-purpose boards. is unusual in that it is part of the development of Linux. Some sessions are as much a developers’ meeting as a conference presentation. Many technical conferences are driven by vendors, and at these product information is handed down from on high. At works in progress are presented, and the resulting debate often leads to changes in the software being discussed. For this reason, it is often informative simply to watch the interpersonal and team dynamics at you usually don’t get to see the inner workings of world-class software development.

AARNet sponsors in kind, often by providing bandwidth for the conference. Our sponsorship gives Linux developers the opportunity to use a superfast research network during conference. Australian researchers then benefit from the improvements to Linux’s networking performance developed in response to the developers’ direct experience with the very same network they use.

Videos from the conference are available at the official Linux Australia mirror server.

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