Over the last 3 days I had the opportunity to attend the technical sessions at USENIX 08, thanks to my job at my CS department. Systems researchers from various universities and companies were in attendance and presenting their research. The companies that were there included Google, Microsoft Research, Sun, IBM Research, VMWare, and many more. There was somebody from Red Hat, but Canonical and Novell were not represented. There was also a representative from the Free Software Foundation with their usual assortment of neat stickers.

Topics concentrated primarily on virtualization and parallel programming, but other systems topics were covered as well. Peter Kronowitt from Intel talked about how Intel has leveraged open source and commented on some of the struggles they had in opening up drivers. Adrian Cockcroft talked about current and upcoming mobile gadgets and how the millicomputing technology can be used toward energy efficient datacenters. Jim Waldo from Sun reported on their project to create a distributed system for MMO game servers. When asked why they were working on the server when a major current issue is parallelizing game client programming, he ended the talk with this gem: “We’re sun. We know servers better than we do clients.” He later also did an interesting talk on why Java is useful as a system language despite not being “cool” like Python and JavaScript currently are, which I think answers Brandon’s question. I really liked those talks in part because of Jim’s very candid talking style.

Ajay Anand and Allen Wittenauer from Yahoo! talked about Hadoop, the open source implementation of the Map/Reduce distributed computation algorithm we used in class. The conference was closed out by Matthew Melis of NASA presenting on the space shuttle and the Columbia accident. Being fascinated with space exploration since I was a kid, this was a really great talk to go to.

Naturally, I looked around for who was running (K)Ubuntu. Despite being familiar with the phenomenon from the faculty and sysadmins at my university, it continues to surprise me how the people most of whose work depends on Linux, do not run it on their desktop/laptop. I’d say 60-70% were running Mac OS X, with most of the remaining on MS Windows. I saw a couple people with Ubuntu and one young Sun SysAdmin running Kubuntu.

It was a long three days, but the talks were great and I met many interesting people and had interesting conversations, so despite barely having time to check my email, I feel like it was very productive and time very well spent.


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