The Technology of SCALE8x – A Post Event Review. PART – 1

Monday, 22. February 2010

The Technology of SCALE8x – A Post Event Review. PART – 1

Every February in Los Angeles CA, a group of dedicated volunteers get together to put on what many believe to be the largest all volunteer organized open source technology conventions in the US. This three day event features talks and exhibits specifically targeted at Open Source users, programmers, and system administrators.

Anyone who knows me on any level is well aware that I am heavily involved in the Open Source community, and SCALE. This is a post event review / report of what worked, what didn’t work, and some insight into how we do the voodoo that was the technology of SCALE8x.

Getting the news out about the show.

SCALE8x was a three day show that opened to the public at 8:30AM PST on February 19th, 2010. But planning for it started Sunday afternoon of SCALE7x back in February 2009. For the Public Relations Committee, their job starts in earnest, then and there.

The group that puts together and maintains the technology for the SCALE events year round is a mixture of programmers, web developers, and system administrators, most of whom have been on the job since the planning stages of SCALE1x in 2002.

The non-profit organization that puts on the expo owns its own server, which operates from inside a Co-Location facility operated by ACT USA which donates space, power, and bandwidth for the server. The physical server acts as a virtual server host for several different virtual servers that perform specific tasks. It runs Debian, and uses KVM for all virtual guests on the system. As part of SCALE’s mission, all software ran by SCALE qualifies as Open Source under the OSI, and only runs the “Non Pay For Play” versions of any software used by SCALE. Here are the details:

I had a key role in the selection of most of these projects, and as such believe that they all do a good job at what they are written to do. But, this article is supose to talk about what worked and what didn’t work and why, so let’s see…

Debian Lenny:

Work(s|ed) great. No problems from an administration side, or from an end user side. I would recommend this as an OS for any application.

Changes: None

KVM:

Steep learning curve for even an experienced administrator, but well worth the price in time to learn how to leverage its power.

Changes: I was going to say make create a utility that allows for easier configurations, but this is a server, and thus requires that things be headless, so I don’t think such a utility would be a reasonable expectation.

Apache:

Simply the best web server software in the world. Used worldwide. As secure as YOU make it.

Changes: None

Sendmail:

Ok, I like sendmail… So, I think it works perfectly. Exim would work, so would PostFix, but I like sendmail.

Changes: None

Dovecot:

One of the fastest and least load intensive IMAP / POP3 servers I have ever run. Works pretty much out of the box, with some minor tweaks.

Changes: Shared IMAP folders would be nice, but not a show stopper.

Mailman:

Mailman works very well as an email list manager and news gateway, but is not really suited for broadcast email lists. It has a nice web GUI for the user though, and is certainly better for mailing lists than Majordomo (Although I still miss some of the cooler things you could do from just sending an email to Majordomo).

Changes: It does what we use it for, so none.

Drupal, Media Wiki & Django:

So, I have lumped these three projects together… Why? Well, three sides of the same coin. We use Drupal to present information to our attendees, Media Wiki to communicate with each other regarding the what, where, when info of the conference, and we use Django to create our back-end applications, such as registration, call for papers, event check-in, and so on. The Drupal interface also handles our blog entries and other types of data such as pages and headlines about the event.

Changes: Well, the biggest issue this year was trying to get the three applications to exchange data transparently. Here is a good example of how this problem manifested for SCALE8x: If you were a speaker at SCALE8x, you put all your information into a web application written in Django. If your paper was accepted, then the room assignment for the talk was made in Media Wiki. This was done so show staff could fine tune things based on projected attendance, A/V requirements, and so on. Once all this was settled, it was suposed to be transfered into Drupal as to populate the online schedule. It turned out that creating a method of importing between programs (All use MySQL databases) was a little more complicated then we originally thought. The Drupal version got out of sync with the Media Wiki version, which lead to some frazzled nerves in the A/V group during the show. So, we are working on getting this resolved.

Pommo:

The Pommo email manager work(s|ed)  well for our needs.

Changes: A multi user interface for administration and a better import utility for the command line would really make this application rock.

Sugar CRM:

The Community, Sponsorship and PR committees use sugar to track their conversations with exhibitors and sponsors, as well as the media.

Changes: Better database maintenance documentation, and clearer instructions for using the OSS version of the software.

I’m happy to say, the programmers are working to fix these small issues for next year. All of us that help with SCALE are dedicated to make each event better and smoother then the next. Without the software listed above, we could not do our jobs.

Stay tuned for the next installment: SETUP!

– Stu

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