Trip Report: LOPSA East 2014

As promised, if a few days later than expected, here is my trip report for LOPSA East 2014.

For those who don’t know, LOPSA is the acronym for the League of Professional System Administrators. LOPSA is the entity that emerged from an attempt by SAGE to gain independence from USENIX back in 2005. You can get more of the back story on the LOPSA history page (

Four years ago, PICC (the Professional IT Community Conference) was first held in New Jersey; it was organized by William Bilancio and Tom Limoncelli. I missed that one, but have attended ever since. Last year, the organization decided that if there was going to be a renaming to more closely associate the conference with the LOPSA “brand”, the time was ripe. Thus, LOPSA East.

Before the breakdown of my trip, let me present the value. I was $1100 all in: conference with two days of training, talks, and networking, plus food, lodging, and fuel. That’s a hell of a deal. I could have peeled off another 300 bucks by getting up at 4 AM on Friday, and driving home after the end of things late on Saturday, but life is short. Frankly, there is no better bang for the buck than a LOPSA regional conference.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the USENIX LISA conference as well. But there are so many simultaneous things going on at a conference of that size that I am ALWAYS missing one thing I want to do, to do something else instead. LOPSA East is small enough that I only felt that regret a little bit, since there are only three main tracks, not ten or a dozen. And if the price per hour of conference at LISA were the same as LOPSA East, LISA would be half the price. EVERY ticket at LOPSA East is a golden ticket, IMO.

The venue for the conference is the Hyatt Regency New Brunswick, in New Jersey. It’s about three hours and change for me to drive, in the middle of the day when the traffic is light. It’s a good hotel, pleasant and well-kept. The staff are polite and helpful. Stuff is expensive (as hotel stuff usually is), but the conference block rate for rooms is good, and I was comp’d the WiFi. (Dudes, seriously, Internet access is like air and water – build the charge into the room rate, mmmm-kay?)

*** Thursday ***

I drove up the day before the conference started, as has been my habit since I first started attending this conference. It lets me get settled in and be rested and ready for technical material – talks and trainings – first thing the next morning. I also found, my first year at LOPSA East (then PICC) that the conference volunteers and organizers also are on site the night before, and have a dutch treat supper, followed by assembly of the conference totes, etc. I’ve always been welcomed and been happy to help out in any way I can. This year, same thing, though we finally had more people than the small “private” dining room at the back of the restaurant in the hotel could hold.

The materials were all onsite by 1900, and we’d gotten everything assembled by 2000. Oh, yeah – I can definitely recommend the lobster macaroni and cheese. Just sayin’ … Folks often head out for a beer or three thereafter … but I usually skip that part,  not being a drinker.

*** Friday ***

One of my prime objectives in this conference was to get my head better wrapped around tools and utility of configuration management systems. I’d attended an Intro to Puppet training a couple of years ago, and while I “got it”, I wasn’t working with any CM at the time, and needed more personal experience with the concepts and products. For a variety of reasons, this has become my “year of configuration management”. I’d spent a considerable amount of personal time here at home working though issues with Puppet, and experimented a bit with Chef and CFEngine … and I was headed down the Puppet path when Erik Fitchner (former cow-orker at NFR/CP) suggested that I simply must check out Ansible or Salt prior to committing. So I started working with Ansible at home, too. This work informed my talks and trainings selections at the conference.

I started on Friday morning with a half-day Intro to Puppet tutorial presented by Thomas Uphill. Within the context of the work I’d already done, I understood everything that was placed in my brain, and picked up a few things I’d missed in autodidact mode. As with every training I attended this year, every demo and example presented actually worked. Thomas’s slides for the presentation are here:

Lunch (both days) is provided by the conference, at the hotel. I’ll give the Hyatt credit for having a first-rate menu, and kudos to the conference organizers for finding it in the budget to feed us so well, and having yet another space and time to meet and talk and network. With a small conference, there isn’t as much of a “hallway track” as there is at LISA-scale events, so these lunches are an important part of the overall LOPSA East experience.

Friday afternoon, I attended Mark Harrison’s tutorial on Vagrant: Not Just For Developers. I learned quite a bit about the speed and utility of spinning up and down test systems for any variety of purposes. I’m looking forward to implementing some of what I learned into my virtualization workflow at the office. Here are Mark’s slides.

The Friday evening Keynote was given by Vish Ishaya, on the topic of OpenStack in the Data Center. After last year’s keynote about our pending doom and the crisis of cloud that MJR gave us, Vish’s talk was optimistic, nearly all sweetness and light by comparison. I know more about OpenStack now, and how it plays into both external cloud vendor business models, and some of what to consider when looking for private (corporate internal) implementations.

After the keynote, a group of us went out to supper across the street at the Old Bay restaurant. I had a superb chicken and sausage jambalaya, the others in our group were equally happy with their selections. Highly recommended.

Conference BoFs (Birds of a Feather gatherings) and Lighting Talks were scheduled from nine to midnight. I attended the Mentorship Program BoF at nine. We discussed how the program was going, and what we needed to do as an organization to try to make it more effective. I’ve mentored one person through the LOPSA Mentorship program … and it just sort of, well, stopped. I’ve tried to send further emails, but no replies are forthcoming. Hmmm.

After that, I retired for the night. Twelve full conference hours is a long day for an old fart like me.

*** Saturday ***

Saturday morning, I attended the Infrastructure Talks Track, with these topics: Enlightining Technical Leadership, Using Ansible to Fill the Gaps Left Over from Puppet and mCollective, Git Hooks for Sys Admins, with Puppet Examples, and The Stack at Stack Exchange. They were, respectively: quirky, useful, interesting, and captivating. How Stack Exchange manages to be in the top fifty of web destinations, and serving that level of traffic with a single rack of windows boxes, well, it just blows my mind.

Saturday lunch was similarly arranged, and of equally high quality of food and company. I bailed out a few minutes early to take care of a few things, so I missed the public presentation of my Certificate of Professional Recognition:

LOPSA Certificate of Professional Recognition

Certificate of Professional Recognition

Saturday afternoon, I attended Thomas Uphill’s Advanced Puppet training course (slides: This content included some things I’d experimented with on my own, and a lot of concepts and ways to structure a Puppet implementation that I will find very useful when I finally need to implement Puppet for real. I have no idea how long those slide decks will stay available – I pulled down a copy for myself, just to be safe. This was the most challenging half-day of my conference calendar, and I was not disappointed.

Saturday evening’s Keynote speaker was Elizabeth Krumbach Joseph, currently with HP, and working on the OpenStack project. Her topic was Universal Design for Tech: Improving Gender Diversity in our Industry. She made a great case for why we need to improve diversity (gender and otherwise) in our profession, and briefly discussed the pluses (the business world is a LOT more professional and non-harrassing than it used to be) and minuses (the online world, especially among the anonymous trolls of the open source world, is a very unpleasant place to be female, or really, different in any way). Her pitch is both true and important. It’ll be the talk most on my mind for the next two years, because of the last bit of news from this conference…

[Here’s Elizabeth’s blog post on the conference:]

Also on Friday evening, after conversation with the organizers and next year’s Program Chair, I volunteered to be the co-chair for 2015, which means that I’ll be the Program Chair for LOPSA East 2016. Wow. Just wow. I’m honored that they think I’m up for the job, and I’ll do my best not to disappoint.

*** Sunday ***

A nice drive home, starting about 0800. I got 37.5 MPG in the 328i, too!


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About bilborg

I am who I am, there's plenty of data on this site to tell you more. Briefly, I'm a husband, computer geek, avid reader, gardener, and builder of furniture.

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