2016 BSDCan Trip Report: Thomas M. Abthorpe


2016 heralded my return to BSDCan after a 4 year hiatus. In part, I was inspired to return this year, after I took some holidays in France back in February. I had the distinct pleasure, that weekend, to have supper with just about all the Paris based FreeBSD committers. Plus, I got to meet my first ever mentee, jadawin@, who made a special trip to come visit. Keeping company with these great people for the night reminded me of the great camaraderie I had experienced at the conferences in years gone by, and I wanted to try experience that again. So, I showed up on campus, and everything felt familiar. This was the first good sign! From there, a few familiar faces were revealed, and before too long, it was almost old homecoming for me!

Virtualised server instances have long been an interest of mine. As I may have mentioned in previous reports, this is one of the few times that my work life, and FreeBSD have some intersect. I eagerly awaited the presentation of Azure and Hyper­V from Microsoft. I have experimented with many hypervisors over the years, and was pleased to see how they have matured from the first time I had used them. I was particularly pleased to see that Microsoft <3 FreeBSD :­D. Cloud services is a polarising topic among most every IT professional. Most of us hate it because we give up some control over the bare metal of the onsite computer, but we also have to balance off those feelings with the knowledge that good availability and uptime in a protected data centre is a good thing. I take some consolation knowing that with these evolved products,  you can host your own private cloud, and there tools are available to migrate to a hosted solution.

Since my early days as a committer, I have maintained some interest in the FreeBSD documentation process. So, I  participated in Warren Block’s Documentation Working Group. At my last BSDCan, I seeded the idea of PO translation tools with a small group of doc committers, and was curious to see how it had come to fruition. Among the various topics discussed was; how to recruit new translators; the need to update/change/modernise the Project website; and ways to engage and increase team submissions for the quarterly reports. Just because I did not get enough of the Documentation working group, after supper I made my way over to the Doc Sprint to see what was happening in there. I managed to engage in a good discussion on the state of stuff in general.

Day two of the DevSummit was both fascinating and intimidating (as always) for me. I have done IT support since 1989, and have immersed most of my life in technology. The fascinating part, as it has been for every other BSDCan I have attended, is the discussion around the dot 0 future release. Normally as a consumer of various operating systems, I don’t have a say in, nor am I given the opportunity to participate in the discussions around the shiny new release. I was in absolute awe of the developers around me, who brainstormed some superb ideas for the future release of FreeBSD. As noted, this feeling of awe, is also the source of my intimidation! I had a fair sense of some of the ideas that were pitched during this session, but there was many ideas I had no clue about!! Wow! This clearly gives me some extracurricular reading to engage in if I am going to keep up. During the general hacking session, I just engaged in some simple tasks as I listened in on some other activities around me.

Something that has become a bit of a tradition during my last couple of conferences, is that some of the newcomer Europeans will seek me out as the SME on poutine. I will neither confirm nor deny that I may or may not have bragged about my poutine eating exploits in IRC. But my Facebook friends may have seen some lavish pictures that I have posted over the years, possibly increasing my personal cred in this arena. This year was no exception! Baptiste made it a point to introduce me to two new French attendees that “needed to have the Canadian experience”, and I was happy to oblige. I am pleased to say, I may have a couple of converts 🙂

On day one of the conference, I decided to line up my first two sessions with the living legends of FreeBSD. I have always enjoyed listening to Dr. McKusick give presentations at past conferences. In years that I did not attend, I would seek out the YouTube videos of his work. This year was no exception! I listened in intently as he presented his history of the file system. In his introductory statement, he made a comment to the effect of “If you told me that code I wrote would still be in production 30 years later, I would not have believed you!” I find it fascinating that as disk systems have evolved so much in the 25+ years I have been in IT support, the tried and true techniques still have enduring quality. The second session was given by FreeBSD co­-founder Rod Grimes. Granted he was giving the presentation on behalf of somebody else, the authority in which Rod spoke was a testimony to his knowledge on the topic. He spoke about how the combination of many hardware components having mechanisms that report on their health  including the disks, coupled with so many disk/controller vendors, there is not a uniform way to capture or interpret the information that a disk sends back. The proposed framework of a diskctl utility and database is a step in the right direction to predicting the eventual failure of a disk, and to take preventive action before it even happens. During the lunch break, I sat in on the ZedFS BoF. As a very casual user, I just sat back and listened intently as others shared stories, tips and tricks. I now feel a little better prepared for the next time I tackle a new set up. The first session of the afternoon, I went to “Beyond the Monocultures”. The title alone intrigued me to want to attend. I have been aware of the Tor privacy network some a little while now, and I was curious to see what the TDP was doing to enhance the privacy enhancing technology. I found it rather interesting that a band of *BSD types were looking to un­seat the top technology supplier(s), who shall not be named, at being leaders in the service delivery. The next session was “Dodging Raindrops”. This was a similar, parallel story of how I too got into FreeBSD by running a consumer grade PC as a server in my basement to break my dependence on other service providers. The final session of the day was Bryan Drewery speaking on improving the FreeBSD build system. We can all relate to spending many hours watching the grass grow as we do a make buildworld buildkernel. I only do it every month or so. But vendors like Isilon do it multiple times daily, so they are looking to find efficiencies in the process. Through deep tree walks, some tweaks to the bmake system, and some old fashioned detective work, the foundation has been laid to save all us valuable time and resources on a future re­compile of our system.

Day two of the conference, I started with the presentation on netmap­fwd. I am enthralled by the discussions of how, in the right hands,  a FreeBSD server can be tweaked and augmented to have value added services included to add new functionality. As server first, network second kind of guy, this talk appealed to me on many levels. I look forward to seeing some of this rolled back into the source tree. During my second session, I kept up with my documentation theme and participated in the Translation Tools session. Back at my last conference in 2012, I demonstrated a proof of concept to some documentation folks on using gettext tools and GUI translation tools that could ease the translation process. I was elated to see that the idea took root, and has encouraged some new translations. During the lunch hour, I sat in on the Meta­BoF. I do not have a BUG in my area, nor do I plan on starting one, but it was interesting to listen to the discussions on what works to draw interest, what fails, and how to keep members engaged. The first session of the afternoon I attended was the Open/LibreSSL session. From my limited purview in recent years, few topics have been as polarising as opensource cryptography!  I have no strong positions on which to use as I have personally used both with various degrees of integration. I followed up with Bernerd regarding some issues I had with the HTTP/2 experimental configuration and he was able to set me straight! Mission accomplished! Next, on to Baptiste’s talk on high density filers. One might think I have fascination with file systems, and this may well be true! This was an amazing story of how a FreeBSD committer, in the right place, at the right time, was able to steer a major Internet service provider toward an open source solution, and how through their journey of discovery was able to hand something back to the wider community. My final session of the day was FreeBSD 8 to 10. This was another tale of discovery of a small ISP that chose open source solutions. Through motivated employees participating at BSDCan, they were able to talk to some key players, including the nice people at PCBSD, to assemble a series of solutions that they were able to take back to work, and put together a tangible migration strategy that they were able to successfully implement.

I would like to wrap up, by expressing my heartfelt gratitude to the FreeBSD Foundation for their gracious sponsorship. Through this trip, I was able to meet with family in the Ottawa area, attend Star Fleet Academy, re­connect with some FreeBSD friends, make some new friends, introduce some Europeans to Canadian comfort food, and engage in some meaningful side topics with other like­minded people.

Respectfully submitted.

Thomas M. Abthorpe


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