Archive for the 'Conferences' Category

OSCON 2014: Is Open Source Dead?

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

After visiting OSCON this year, I have to ask myself: is open source dead?

I don’t mean open source software. Software published under licenses approved by the OSI is booming. What I mean is the ideal of open source software, that people would get together to build collaborative applications that would be given away for free.

I’ve never been a fan of software in an of itself. I’ve always looked toward software for what it can allow me to do. I don’t care about spreadsheets unless they help me manage my company. I don’t care about word processors beyond their ability to allow me to express my thoughts. Even games can be judged on how well they allow me to escape into them. So I don’t see “software” as a product – it’s the thing that helps me make the product.

It seems that open source applications have all but disappeared. What’s doing very well are open source libraries and languages that allow people to build proprietary products. Take a look at the biggest sponsors of OSCON. There’s Bluehost, a hosting provider “built on open source technologies”. There’s Paypal, “using open source foundations in their technology stacks”. The list continues: Citrix, Google, HP, Github, Microsoft and Rackspace. Of all of those, only Github strikes me as an open source company. The others are using open source technologies but to build closed products. The “open” has come to mean “open protocols” more than “open source”.

Is this a bad thing? I really don’t know.

If you look at the sponsor page, you’ll see “We’re Hiring” banners next to the names of many of the companies. Being fluent in open source technologies is a good way to get a job, and seems to be the primary reason many of the companies were there in the first place.

The only large truly open source company I know of, Red Hat, was there, but in a little bitty booth. There are still a lot of “open core” companies represented: those companies that provide a feature limited version of their products under an open source license but charge for the full featured one. While I think this is a bad thing, they seem to be doing well.

Is it because no one cares anymore? This saddens me.

There seems to be a lack of concern about the lock-in that comes with proprietary software, even more so than in years past. There is a huge gold rush to provide software as a service (SaaS) offerings, but no one is caring about security or portability. A lot of the business models of these SaaS companies directly involves analytics of their users. Was anyone in the tech world really surprised when it was revealed that Facebook was experimenting on its user base? Yet people seem to be in a rush to turn over their most important information to third parties. Even at OSCON, the premier open source conference, most of the people wandered around with Macbooks and iPhones.

So, open source is really succeeding in core technologies such as libraries and languages but fails at the end user application level. I think part of it is the lack of a good business model. People are more than willing to pay exorbitant amounts of money for software licenses but are loathe to pay for an open source support contract. I also think that it fails when it comes to usability. Without the business model, there just aren’t the resources available to make a lot of the software accessible to the casual technical user and much less to the Muggles. Heck, even Apple, which did such a good job with Time Machine, has pretty much moved backup from the user space to iCloud.

This doesn’t mean that I’ve given up on open source. I still use a Linux Mint desktop and an Android phone running OmniROM. Almost all of the software I use is open source, but even I have to admit that in many cases the stuff I use isn’t ready for the basic user. But I may have to rethink my relationship to the term “open source”.

This post may sound like I’m really down, but I’m not. I’m actually kind of upbeat overall. And I really enjoyed the short amount of time I spent at OSCON. While not as open source-y as I might like, this is one of the few times a year I can be assured of running into a lot of cool people I’ve met over the years. When I arrived at the exhibit hall, I made a beeline for the unfashionable booths in the back and toward the left known as the “Nonprofit Pavilion” or as I like to call it, the “Geek Ghetto”. It’s pretty cool that some commercial shows like this offer free booths, but one must realize that they don’t include things like carpet padding, power or Internet access. I know a couple of projects that got booths next to each other so they could share.

The first booth I stopped at was the Software Freedom Conservancy booth where I got to see Bradley Kuhn and Karen Sandler for the first time in over a year, and I got to meet Marc Delisle, the maintainer of phpMyAdmin. They seem to be doing well and the list of Conservancy projects keeps growing. While I was there, open source guru Stormy Peters stopped by, as well as Deb Nicholson from the Open Invention Network.

I also was happy to see the LibreOffice booth. That is one project that really does try to do a fully open source application and they seem to be succeeding (I use it every day). Back when I was a Mac user I started using Keynote and Pages until I realized that the stuff I was creating was going to be tied to Apple forever. To my knowledge none of the Microsoft Office or iWork stuff support an open format, but maybe that will change now that the UK government has formally adopted ODF as their standard.

While interest in open source applications is waning, it is fun to see the open source spirit is still alive in projects other than software. I met Kevin from Free Geek, a non-profit that started in Portland but has grown to over ten other cities. Free Geek recycles technology and provides training for a variety of disciplines including computer hardware, software and even lock picking (who knows when you’ll get locked out of the server closet).

Something I don’t believe they had at OSCON last time was an “open hardware” section. I got to play with a beagleboard which is used by Prof. Thomas Bewley in his robotics classes as UCSD. I’m kind of jealous at all the new toys college students get to play with these days, for credit even.

One project is to create a balancing, two-wheeled robot. The one I played with was managed with a radio controller, and it was quite robust, even when I purposely drove it into other things (people, other robots).

On the opposite corner of the hall from the Geek Ghetto were the booths of some of the smaller open source projects with more commercial backing. The Red Hat booth was over there, and it was nice to run into Greg DeKoenigsberg at the Anisible booth. I met Greg when he was at Red Hat and it was also nice to see a local face (he’s nearby in Durham). Anisible seems to be a pretty cool project and I loved the tweet from an emphatic user who said “If a vegan, Crossfit, Anisible enthusiast meets you, what do they talk about first?”.

Speaking of meeting people, I got to chat with Erica Brescia over at the Bitnami booth, and later on ran into Jono Bacon and Stephen Walli. We ended up at Baileys along with Chris Aniszczyk from Twitter and some others, but as they say, what happens in Portland stays in Portland, so no pictures.

Plus, you really, really don’t want to know about that evening’s particular discussion. Ah, good times.

2014 OpenNMS Users Conference

Monday, March 10th, 2014

There is less than month to go before the biggest OpenNMS user event of the year. The OpenNMS user conference will be held 8-11 April at the University of Southampton in the UK.

I just got back from a week in the area and I’d thought I’d share some of my favorite things about it. First of all, I got to see two UK OGP members, Craig Gallen and Jonathan Sartin, who will both be at the conference.

Craig got his doctorate at the University, and he has arranged for us to have access to some pretty nice facilities. I wanted to take pictures but class was in session at the time, but basically we have access to one large, auditorium style classroom and several smaller classrooms, all connected by a common area that we can use for chatting, coffee, etc. We have access to accommodation in a nearby dormitory as well, which should make getting around pretty easy. There is a cafeteria/restaurant next to the building with the classrooms where we’ll have meals.

While some people criticize English cuisine, I do have my favorites and I look forward to having them again this trip. This last trip I stayed with some friends in nearby Lyndhurst, and on Sunday they rolled out the “full english“:

Okay, so it’s missing the black pudding, but I tend not to eat that anyway. I also have a fondness for “bangers and mash“:

But of course this conference isn’t all about food. Many of the developers will be there as well as numerous customers who will tell how they get the most out of OpenNMS. Jeff and I will be teaching a “boot camp” training course on OpenNMS for the first two days, but the main event will happen the last two days when the presentations start. David will be giving a keynote on the “new shiny” coming in 1.14 as well as an update on 2.0. Our newest hire, Ken, will be discussing what he learned running a huge instance of OpenNMS for the government of the state of Oregon. Eric, Mr. NoSQL, will present his work on the Cassandra backend to replace RRDtool for highly scalable performance data storage. Antonio will talk about the new features in Linkd.

But the sessions I will be attending are those by OpenNMS users that are part presentation/part case study. Markus will discuss a configuration done for a large company in Sweden that enabled category-base thresholds. Mike and Ron are going to talk about how they use OpenNMS to import odd but useful data into the system. Ian is going to discuss BGP monitoring.

And, while I can’t imagine that isn’t enough to get you interested, remember that other half of English cuisine, the beer:

I’m sure there will be lots of that. (grin)

Southampton itself is an interesting town. A major sea port, this is the port from which the Titanic set sail (slogan: when she left here she was whole). Craig took me to a museum dedicated to the port in the general and specifically the Titanic. It was pretty nice, except that someone needs to pay attention to their Adobe Air version:

If you want to spend the weekend after exploring the area, you can’t walk ten feet without tripping over something of historical significance. I got to visit Minstead, which is the final resting place for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

I also got to see “Satan’s Roundabout” up in Hemel Hempstead. This is a traffic circle with several little traffic circles hung off of it (in all fairness the locals call it the “Magic Roundabout“). It was weird to be driving the “right” way around it, which is actually wrong, and it made it even harder than usual for me to keep from getting run over by looking in the wrong direction for oncoming traffic.

And of course, if you get homesick for a taste of home, there is always Papa Johns:

So if you’ve been on the fence about coming to the conference, I hope I’ve convinced you that it will be both valuable and fun. I can guarantee you’ll learn how to get more value out of your OpenNMS instance than it costs to attend. Registration is still open and I hope to see you there.

Austin and the CAC

Saturday, January 25th, 2014

It’s been a busy week for me as I had meetings in Sunnyvale followed by a trip to Austin to participate in a Rackspace Customer Advisory Council (CAC) event.

I’m not sure why I was chosen to be on the CAC. While I have been involved with Rackspace since April of 2002 (nearly 12 years – sheesh) we only have one server there. We are looking to deploy a number of new products and we’ve chosen OpenStack as our technology and Rackspace as our provider, but we are in the development stage and haven’t deployed any of it, yet. But it is always fun to come to Austin so I was happy to be able to visit.

I arrived on Wednesday just in time for a networking event. We had a choice of a visit to the hotel spa for a massage, or beer.

Guess which option I chose?

About ten of us got into a van and were driven to the Austin Beerworks. This was my kind of beer tour: it started with us sitting at the bar and then it pretty much stopped. I started off with a red amber called “Battle Axe” and then moved on to “Black Thunder”. I was sold on its description as a “German-style Schwarz” beer, and it was pretty tasty (I really liked the Battle Axe as well). Unfortunately, some good conversation got in the way and I talked too much (imagine), so time ran out before I could try the Sputnik. It was worth it, since a lot of that conversation was with Carl and Nick from Simply Measured, and it was cool to learn about how they were using Rackspace to implement their solution.

At the evening event at Perry’s Steakhouse I was happy to see that John Engates had made it up from San Antonio. I last saw John on CBS News when he was talking about issues with the website. As a thought leader on hosting he was called to DC to provide input on fixing that site’s performance woes.

As we were catching up, a very energetic man came up and joined our conversation. He turned out to be Robert Scoble. Of course I’ve heard about him for years, and it was a pleasure to finally meet him in person, and yes, he is as crazy animated as his reputation suggests. When it came time for dinner I ended up seated between the two of them, and I likened it to being the creamy filling in a geek Oreo.

John had just taken delivery on a new, bright red Tesla Model S, so I begged a ride back to the hotel. While I think electric hybrids like the Prius are cool from a technology standpoint, the Tesla is cool from a car standpoint first and technology second. The controls and instruments are accessed almost completely through a touchscreen, and you can control everything from what music you want to listen to through ride height using it (only the buttons for the hazard lights and the glove box are analog). Plus the thing is insanely fast with zero lag – press the pedal and it snaps your head back. With a measured zero to sixty mph time of 4.2 seconds, it is slightly faster than David’s stock Mustang GT.


On Thursday we got to work with a series of presenters who discussed existing and upcoming Rackspace products. I’m not allowed to talk about them due to NDA, but I’m very interested in Rackspace’s hybrid cloud model using OpenStack. I like the control and security of a private cloud but I look to the public cloud to handle peak traffic. While getting the two to work was a little kludgy six months ago, they have done a lot of work to streamline the process.

Scoble did a talk during lunch about his new book the Age of Context. It seems worth checking out, although I think I’ll pass on getting the $3650 Meta Pro goggles in lieu of Glass.

I also got reminded that I really need to check out the Chef project. Both Rackspace and most of the attendees are heavy Chef users, and it seems to be edging out Puppet in the enterprises I’ve come across.

Thursday night saw sleet, freezing rain and some snow descend on Texas, so the Friday session was a little lighter on Rackers than was planned (since many of them were going to drive up from San Antonio that morning). It was cool to see that Nathan Anderson , who was a programmer at Rackspace when I started with them in 2002, is now is a position of responsibility, even if that responsibility involves the billing interface. (grin)

It was a fun time, and it made me excited about the possibilities available using the Rackspace platform. Hats off to Sandra, Aisha, Cara and the whole Customer Experience team for a nice conference.

OpenNMS Users Conference Call for Papers

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

In case you missed it, the Call for Papers for next year’s OpenNMS Users Conference is now open.

In my ten plus years of working on OpenNMS, I think the thing I am most proud of is the formation of the non-profit OpenNMS Foundation Europe e.V.. This was organized totally by people not on the payroll of The OpenNMS Group and their inaugural conference in Fulda, Germany, last year was a lot of fun.

Their sophomore effort will take place is Southampton, UK a little later in the year so perhaps we’ll miss the snow. It is one of my favorite events of the year and I hope to see a lot of people there. OpenNMS is created in something of a bubble. Since we don’t require any form of registration to get the software we have no idea who is using it, and we are often pleasantly surprised to find out where OpenNMS ends up. I can’t wait to see who shows up in April.

Registration is not yet open, but they are interested in hearing from you. The users conference is about users by users and your stories are what’s in demand.

2013 All Things Open Conference

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Last week was the inaugural All Things Open Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina (USA).

My involvement with this show was somewhat accidental. We were talking with Tom Rabon a few months back about how the Research Triangle Area (which includes Raleigh as well as Chapel Hill and Durham) is something of a hotbed for true open source companies, headed by Red Hat (‘natch). He was thinking we could emphasize this by hosting an open source focused conference in the area, and work toward building some sort of open source “center of excellence” for the region.

Now unfortunately the current North Carolina state government seems hell bent on making the State unattractive for technology businesses as a whole, but there are pockets where the open source culture thrives and the Triangle is one of them. This was noticed by a group out of South Carolina called It-ology whose mission is to promote Information Technology from primary education up through adult professionals, and they see open source as the wave of the future. They decided to hold a conference in the area to see if there was any interest, and when I found out that someone was already working on it I decided to get involved.

The expected attendance was 400 people. Over 800 showed up.

Now note that this was not a free conference, like the wonderful, grassroots LUG-driven events I try to attend. While definitely not as expensive as, say, a Gartner or IDG conference, the fact that so many people were willing to pony up the shekels to come speaks well toward both the conference line up and the organization, headed by Todd Lewis.

I arrived just before 9am and found a huge line of people waiting to register. I chalk that both up to first time conference issues as well as to the unexpected turnout, and for one of the few times in my life I used my clout as a sponsor to get my badge early (grin).

Along the way I ran into Mike Else, the evening’s entertainment, as he performs as Professor Kliq and OpenNMS had paid to sponsor his trip to the show. We entered the crowded, standing room only keynote room and found some places in the back to sit (yes, the “standing room only” part happened after we sat down).

During the opening remarks we were told that IT-ology is looking for a director of operations for the Triangle area, so if you are in to that sort of thing, give them a call. That sounds like something I would love to do, but alas I have bright and golden handcuffs to my current job.

This was followed by some good keynote speeches. One was given by William Hurley, more commonly referred to as simply “whurley“. I first met him back in 2006, but hadn’t seen him in awhile since he created his company Chaotic Moon (and he started rockin’ the C. Everett Koop beard).

He’s his own cult of personality and no one can deny he is a dynamic speaker, but I do want to criticize his use of “F-bombs“. Now don’t get me wrong, I love that word and it is very useful in certain contexts, but this wasn’t one of them. One might have been okay, but this was something of a family oriented show and it detracted from the message (by making some people uncomfortable) versus helping it.

I also took issue with his claim that open source hadn’t changed in the three years he’s been at Chaotic Moon (that company is definitely not open source, having gained fame through the development of iOS apps). He brought up some examples, such as RMS, Mark Shuttleworth and Matt Asay (that last one struck me as odd since he ceased to be relevant a long time ago, if he ever was) and to me we have so moved beyond them, this conference being one example.

The little video he showed of the mind controlled skateboard was cool, though.

I talked with him about the keynote afterward and the fact of the matter is that he is who he is and F-bombs are just part of that. Still, he does get the conversation started and it was great hearing stories about working with Rupert Murdoch and Steve Jobs in the same room.

But it wasn’t the whurley show (sorry to drone on about it but that is just what happens when he is around). I got to see Andrew Oliver and Phillip Rhodes, two local open source entrepreneurs who I’ve kept in touch with over the years. I also went to a talk by Jason Hibbets, the main project lead for as well as the author of The Foundation for an Open Source City and another reason why the conference was held in Raleigh.

Most of Wednesday’s talks were business and introductory, whereas Thursday’s talks were more technical. I did one on my experiences running an open source business, which was held over lunch.

That night there were a number of social events. There was a Github drinkup, followed by a speakers dinner, followed by a party sponsored by OpenNMS. Kliq did an amazing set, but there seemed to be a large drop in attendance from the initial Github party and ours. I think that was mainly due to people being local and heading home (I made it back to my, slightly spinning, hotel room around 2am) but part of it may have been the delay in the middle. Next year we should probably not split the events like that, so there is more continuity (versus come to Spy, leave to get dinner, and come back to Spy).

Still, since I was buying the drinks, it worked out (grin).

Overall I had a great time, and the feedback has been uniformly positive. Next year may see a curtailing in the number of conferences I can attend, but All Things Open will be one of them.