John's Trip to LISA '96

I was fortunate to be able to attend the Tenth USENIX System Adminstration Conference (LISA '96), held September 29 to October 4, 1996, at the Chicago Marriott Downtown in, where else, downtown Chicago. This is a short summary of my trip, with mentions of the interesting things that I learned at the conference.

Conference proceedings (abstracts, full papers if you're a member) are available at


Flew to Chicago, checked in. Noticed that the hotel was smack dab in the middle of the prime shopping district in Chicago. There's a Nike store that is 6 or 7 floors tall. And, if I crane my neck just right, I can see the lake out my hotel rooom window.


In the afternoon, I attended the tutorial "Effective Meetings: Getting More Done in Less Time" which was presented by Maurita Plouff. I had attended her "Talking Technical" tutorial last year. I found this one useful as well -- lots of good information on getting the most out of a meeting, planning, agendas, where to sit, etc.

A quiet evening -- did some reading.


Advanced Topics Workshop

I attended the "Advanced Topics Workshop", which was interesting (as was last year's). I've co-written an article about it for ;login:. It was useful, but it didn't really accomplish anything concrete (which was to be expected I guess).

I went to two Birds of a Feather (BOF) sessions in the evening:

Database Storage Management -- Veritas

The folks at Veritas were looking for feedback on new features that they are developing and/or considering. We use the Veritas volume manager on our PDB database server, to manage (currently) 36 disks in two Sparc Storage Arrays.

Next year, Veritas will have "network mirroring", which will make it possible to mirror filesystems across an IP network (off-site backups anyone?).

They are proposing to implement "snapshots", which will be really useful for backups and decision support -- you can make a copy of the database (or filesystem) available from a particular point in time. Almost instantly. Cool idea. They're also planning to do block level incremental backup (which I think falls out of the snapshot idea).

Someone suggested that EMC backup/Epoch is good. Oracle Enterprise Backup does full backups only??

Securid Admin Gripe Session

A few bugs and unexpected features were pointed out:

The BOF was organized by Amy Chused from BBN Planet <> -- they use SecurID tokens to let their web server clients in to modify their web pages.

Since other people seem to have 2.2 already, I called Security Dynamics October 15 -- they said 2.2 was released in July and we should be receiving a letter shortly saying that we should be receiving the software in 4 to 8 weeks.


Dick Lampman from HP talking about futures, smart house, networks ... Somewhat ho hum.
Like an expanded "sudo" -- various rules and patterns about arguments and hosts, etc. Seems okay, but I'm leery -- the guy can't write English and he chose a printcap/termcap style configuration language. I think I recall someone saying that it was reminiscent (or reinventing?) "op" from a number of years ago. Worth looking at though ...
Graphical interface, etc., for running commands on many machines at a time in parallel. Interesting, but dangerous looking -- you could destroy your entire network in minutes (xhier can do that too, only not quite as quickly). Maybe worth looking at.
Standards panel
Didn't go there, went to the other track
Account Management
Went to the other track instead. Henry Spencer's "shuse" paper is worth reading, for the idea of keeping the entire user database in memory for fast access. Didn't read the other two much yet -- though any paper on user account management that needs such complicated appearing diagrams worries me a little.
Scaling Your Webserver
Dan Klein talking about how to keep your web server running efficiently. Interesting -- talked about keeping historical statistics, DNS configurations, monitoring, Netscape is Evil!, monitoring, and finally, monitoring.
Didn't bother
Didn't bother there either
Vendor Exhibits
See bigger descriptions below
Conference Reception
Good food -- not as nice a location as the Monterey Aquarium of course.
Firewalls BOF
Same time as Samba BOF, so I chose firewalls. Pretty uneventful. A suggestion to look at "Log Surfer" from (wherever that is). The Chapman/Zwicky firewalls book errata is available from


Good simple idea -- you just do whatever inside autoexpect, and it remembers how to do it and what to expect. Expect is really cool. I had earlier asked Don Libes if he was making any money off the Expect book, and he said that he might be up to almost minimum wage at this point.
An LPD for the 90s
Maybe, but probably not.
Maybe I'm a little underwhelmed, perhaps just because he's still a student. Had lunch with Remy and Craig and talked about things a bit. Remy's still interested in a req 2.0, but likely not soon. How about multiple lists? Would it make sense to just make the directory and such an environment variable? How to handle multiple group permissions? Anyway, worth looking at, but give it another couple of months or so.
Blew it off so I could go to:
What It's Like to be Your Own Boss
Celeste Stokely -- interesting. Notes and stuff available at
Blew it off so I could go to:
Experiences of Running A Large Archive Site
SunSITE Northern Europe ( -- 8 way 1000, 1GB 200GB and so on. About to be supplemented by a 6 way 6000 3GB and 200 series RSM arrays (200GB) and ATM. Busy, busy place ... They like "exim" rather than "sendmail".
Toasty Cool Moose
Best session title. MajorCool (a web interface to majordomo mailing lists and list administration) looks interesting, but likely open to abuse, but perhaps that can be dealt with in some way? Worth looking at if we would like people to have nice warm fuzzies.

PGP Moose -- PGP authenticated newsgroup moderation (and cancellation). Good stuff.

Brave Little Toaster -- news via NFS to a Network Appliance toaster is fast (surprisingly) (dedicated ethernet segment). Faster than local disks. Lots of pictures and graphs, theoretically available at The author used to be at SLAC, and then joined NetApp.

And More ...
Dinner, SAGE Board BOF for a while, Baby BOF, Synopsys suite/party, UNIX/NT Admin BOF (a certain amount of frustration expressed there).
Why do we have NT servers anyway, if we're just using them for file service? Why not just Samba and/or NetApp? One thing is that the NT print servers will send (apparently) the right printer driver when you connect (from NT client?) to print queue -- how? And why doesn't Samba do that? Perhaps it's only NT 4 and NT workstation?


Missed ...
... most of the morning sessions (Softwar Distribution #1 and #2, Manage People, Not Logins, and Intrusion Detection) so I could go to meetings! My 5 year old xhier paper was cited 3 times this morning.
Lisa 97 Program Committee Meeting
Breakfast meeting 7:30(!) till 10:00. Should be interesting.
UNIX/NT Admin/Integration Workshop Planning Meeting
Managing and Distributing Application Software
CERN, big, GUI, stuff like that, but doesn't look like there are local files or config file twiddling, though there might be boottime files.
At Ed Debevic's big loud diner, with waitstaff with a personality. With Murray K, who said it was only 2 blocks.
The Future of System Administration
How would I know? I went to:
Just Another Convicted Perl Hacker
The Randall Schwartz talk. I went in thinking "he got what you deserved", and came out thinking that he made a mistake, and got penalized way out of proportion for his mistake.
Friends of Randall Schwartz:
The Rob Kolstad Show
Classic Rob, talking a little bit about web stuff, UNIX stuff, fighting the Redmond menace.
Horror Story contest winners
The winner was "The Last Cricket Match" (at the nuclear power plant) and involved the big red button -- very eloquent -- I suspect that it will be printed in the next :login:.
And more ...
Wizards BOF to be from 8:00 in the Iowa room. Cash bar hosted by the famous Eric Allman.

Vendor Exhibits

Wednesday and Thursday -- they ran out of free pizza Wednesday evening.


Late breakfast with friends, a little shopping, Navy Pier, hanging out.


The easiest airplane travel ever. Shuttle to the airport, walk right up to the Air Canada desk, agent says "we have a plane leaving in 10 minutes, would you like to take it instead?". Luggage last on, first off, home 2 hours early. Read junk mail on the plane.

Last update by JMS