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LISA '08 Recap

Recently I just got back from LISA (Large Install System Administrators) Conference in San Diego.  Overall I really enjoy this conference.  My employer generally doesn’t spend very much on conferences, at least not for people in my position, so it’s nice that I get to go to this one.  There are very few Sysadmin specific conferences out there.  Velocity seems to have some potential despite it being very Web (2.0) centric.  I haven’t been to Velocity so I really can’t comment.

This was my second trip to LISA, I went last year in Dallas.  This year was definatly better.  It being in San Diego meant not only the the weather was fantastic, but there was also lots to do outside of the conference.  I think that particular locale made it easier for people on the west coast to come.  For those that haven’t been, LISA consists on basically 2 ‘tracks’, which you can mix and match.  The technical sessions, which are later in the week and the training sessions, which run the entire week long (up to 2 per day).  This year I took a full week of training.

All in all the training is good.  There’s a bit of a trick to it.  You have to take classes on things that you don’t know anything about because they tend not to be very advanced.  Also from year to year the training doesn’t seem to improve much, many of the instructors are using their same slides from the previous year (or further back).  The Technical sessions are more like 2 hour lectures on a particular topic.  They are not geared toward training but more toward presenting.  I’ve never found them that interesting.

By far where LISA wins out is what’s called the ‘Hallway Track’.  This is basically the hobnobbing in the halls with other SAs and going out to dinner and all the conversations that occur as a result of that.  Each year I’ve found that amazingly useful.  Most SAs operate in a bit of a vacum, they may have a small (or large) team, but there’s a heirarchy there.  If they are in a solo shop they don’t usually have someone to bounce ideas off of.  Even if they do company size, budget, etc limit the focus.  The people you meet with at LISA cover all sorts of areas from the large financial sector, to academia, to startups.  It’s those different perspectives that are really valuable and why I go back each year.

I am however disappointed that LISA has been shrinking a bit, they need to improve their training and try to attract different groups of SAs.  I think alot of small shop SAs don’t come to LISA because it has this air of being only for really large installs.  If you are serious about your craft as an SA you hope to one day be in a large install, either by growing the one you have or moving into one.  I think it’s important for small SAs to attend a conference like this to learn about techniques they could implement before they get too big.

Another point of disappoitment is with the vendors.  As an employee for what easily can be described as a vendor we don’t have a presence at LISA (except as attendees).  There were probably only 25 vendors this year and most of them were in the SAN space.  SUN was there, but they didn’t really seem into promoting their product.  FreeBSD was there as well, but they are kinda preaching to the choir with their userbase if you ask me.  Fedora had no presence there, Red Hat had nothing.  Where were all the security product vendors?  Where were the groupware vendors?  Splunk always shows up and does a good job.  In fact I started using Splunk last year after talking with their sales guys at LISA ’07. Alot of people at LISA are either buying or making the technical recommendation and indirectly buying the products that their companies will use.  Reductive Labs personally has LISA to thank for at least one contract.  I wouldn’t have bought a support contract with them if I hadn’t met Luke and had some really good discussions with him.

The after hours stuff at LISA is also excellent.  They have BoFs (Birds of a Feather) sessions about a wide range of topics.  Anyone can run a BoF, they are meant to be informal roundtable discussions about a particular topic.  They often stray off the technical, there was a hockey bof last year, and their’s usually a semi-secret scotch bof every year as well.

Next year LISA will be in Baltimore.  I will likely go because it’s so close and I get alot out if each year.  Even when I don’t learn alot of training, being around a bunch of other SAs and spending a week discussing methods and other aspects of SA always invigorates me and gets me all fired up for when I return to work.  It’s kinda like a career reset.  When your job has you beaten down and you’re burned out sometimes a vacation helps release that pent of stress.  Sometimes however getting away from work but staying technical and learning about other ways of doing your job can be an even bigger boost.

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