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
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
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:
- Must make sure that the client software doesn't believe VAR_ACE,
or you could be talking to a fake server (since fixed at Waterloo).
- V2.2 tape has 3 files on it: tar, tar, cpio
- V2.2 leaves the ace/var directory mode 777, to let sdshell
be not setuid when it writes the node secret. This is silly.
- Question to me:
Can we make sdshell non-setuid, and add a userid arg to sdcheck
(or something) to make it authorize a root user who can write
the securid node secret file?
The BOF was organized by Amy Chused from BBN Planet
<email@example.com> -- 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
- Didn't bother
- ATM at SFU
- 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.
A suggestion to look at "Log Surfer" from cert.de (wherever that is).
The Chapman/Zwicky firewalls book errata is available from greatcircle.com.
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 (sunsite.doc.ic.ac.uk) -- 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).
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?
... most of the morning sessions (Softwar Distribution #1 and #2,
Manage People, Not Logins, and Intrusion Detection) so I could go
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.
- I didn't volunteer for the program committee
- Late spring (April/May) likely
- To be finalized in October - proposal by the 11th, the call by the 25th
- Likely some sort of position paper required or some kind of active
- 3 days, 200 people max
- Xev Gittler and Phil Scarr co-chairs
- Tim Gassaway will set up a mailing list on usenix.org
- Days will likely be
- Some expert/overview talks
- Shared experiences
- Focus groups with goals and results (e.g. ;login: papers)
- Likely to be interesting, potentially worth someone going
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.
Wednesday and Thursday -- they ran out of free pizza Wednesday evening.
- Lots of interesting stuff
- Freshwater Software web monitoring tools "SiteScope" -- interesting
looking, probably useful, not particularly cheap (5 servers for $1,295,
$995 if ordered by October 18).
Free demos available:
- DHCP server from Join -- looks promising -- likely $1/node or so.
Dynamic DNS updates -- I sent them a suggestion for external scripts
to be fired off when things register/de-register but I haven't heard back
- GraphOn's Go Global -- they're now (apparently) concentrating on
this low bandwidth PC X server which is pretty effective. I wish
they had a generic X protocol compressor though.
- Above Tehcnology's
"DB Capture" is neat, but $6k for 10GB.
It's a replacement disk driver for Solaris, SunOS, HP
that lets you do instant snapshots, and then access the snapshots (using
a different /dev entry). Accesses to the "real" /dev entries are caught
by the driver -- reads are passed through, writes grab the old blocks (that
are part of the snapshot) and copy them elsewhere, and then lets the
<firstname.lastname@example.org> or president Doug Herrington <email@example.com>
- SCH SystemWatch is worth looking at -- it's monitoring tool with
different levels of alerts, ability to escalate problems, extensible
with external tests, execute arbitrary actions.
I don't have/don't remember pricing.
- Auspex apparently does network mirroring now, but I think maybe only
on the same subnet. You had to fill out a big long sales form just to
get a T-shirt (no thanks!).
- There was a smaller than usual O'Reilly booth -- the new edition of
the Perl book sold out in about 5 minutes (80 or so copies). But, there
were free T-shirts later at the O'Reilly hospitality and camel signing
room -- the lineup for book signing was out the door and way, way down
the hall. So I went back much later, walked in, got a drink and a
T-shirt and left.
I broke down and bought a cheap Java book and ordered a
cheap about to be released webmaster reference book (HTTP, HTML, CGI, all in
one place -- or so they claim).
- Central Data serial ports look interesting -- they have "local"
serial ports that can be connected over the ethernet, sort of like a
single host terminal server, but really handy for things like modems
and cash registers perhaps?
They also have SCSI connections (of course) and a really cool product:
ethernet (or SCSI) connected terminal ports with PCMCIA slots instead of
RJ45's for modems. Nice and tidy, 8 or 16 ports.
Perhaps for the Computer Store/Bookstore link? Hmmm ...
- Lots of fax software vendors -- talked to the guy from Devcom, not
particularly cheap -- hylafax will probably serve us well.
- Lots of recruiting booths -- Synopses, Disney, Paranet, PSA,
Taos Mountain, etc.
- Some toys (Synopses yoyo, Labyrinth labyrinth, Synchronize knife),
a few T-shirts.
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.
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