Besides all the sessions, which were pretty good, a lot of the good info you get from conferences is by networking with other folks there and talking to vendors. Here are some of my top-value takeaways.
Aptimize is a New Zealand-based company that has developed software to automatically do the most high value front end optimizations (image spriting, CSS/JS combination and minification, etc.). We predict it’ll be big. On a site like ours, going back and doing all this across hundreds of apps will never happen – we can engineer new ones and important ones better, but something like this which can benefit apps by the handful is great.
I got some good info from the MySpace people. We’ve been talking about whether to run our back end as Linux/Apache/Java or Windows/IIS/.NET for some of our newer stuff. In the first workshop, I was impressed when the guy asked who all runs .NET and only one guy raised his hand. MySpace is one of the big .NET sites, but when I talked with them about what they felt the advantage was, they looked at each other and said “Well… It was the most expeditious choice at the time…” That’s damning with faint praise, so I asked about what they saw the main disadvantage being, and they cited remote administration – even with the new PowerShell stuff it’s just still not as easy as remote admin/CM of Linux. That’s top of my list too, but often Microsoft apologists will say “You just don’t understand because you don’t run it…” But apparently running it doesn’t necessarily sell you either.
Our friends from Opnet were there. It was probably a tough show for them, as many of these shops are of the “I never pay for software” camp. However, you end up wasting far more in skilled personnel time if you don’t have the right tools for the job. We use the heck out of their Panorama tool – it pulls metrics from all tiers of your system, including deep in the JVM, and does dynamic baselining, correlation and deviation. If all your programmers are 3l33t maybe you don’t need it, but if you’re unsurprised when one of them says “Uhhh… What’s a thread leak?” then it’s money.
ControlTier is nice, they’re a commercial open source CM tool for app deploys – it works at a higher level than chef/puppet, more like capistrano.
EngineYard was a really nice cloud provisioning solution (sits on top of Amazon or whatever). The reality of cloud computing as provided by the base IaaS vendors isn’t really the “machines dynamically spinning up and down and automatically scaling your app” they say it is without something like this (or lots of custom work). Their solution is, sadly, Rails only right now. But it is slick, very close to the blue-sky vision of what cloud computing can enable.
And also, I joined the EFF! Cyber rights now!
You can see most of the official proceedings from the conference (for free!):