LISA 2009 Wrap-up

While a good portion of the Postgres community was making their way to France for PGDay Europe, fellow BWPUG member Greg Smith and I were manning the home-front in Baltimore at the 2009 Large Installation and Systems Administration (aka LISA) conference, held this year in Baltimore, MD. The two of us took to the exhibition floor to man a booth for the PostgreSQL project, a two-day stint that gave us plenty of face time with the LISA attendees. For me it had been three years since my last LISA conference (at my other local city, Washington, D.C.) so I was curious to see how things had changed since then. Some thoughts/notes I took while working the show floor: 1) There were a lot of Postgres users at the show. A lot of *happy* Postgres users. Compared to 3 years ago when we ran into just a few, more than half the people who stopped at the booth were already using Postgres. 2) No one asked me “so why should I use Postgres instead of MySQL”. Which is not to say the topic of MySQL didn’t come up, but the above question is by far the #1 question I normally hear working community booths (even got it at OSCon this summer), so to not get anyone asking was quite a surprise in retrospect. I think this is probably due to two factors; first that Postgres advocacy has been working hard to make the case for Postgres and clarify the differences between the two projects, and second that we’ve gotten a lot of converts over the past three years so there’s much more knowledge about Postgres these days. A couple people showed there was still work to do; some glossed over differences between the projects, and one person even thought Postgres was the commercial version of MySQL; so the job of Postgres advocacy goes on. 3) So where did they come from? Many of the people who told us they were happy Postgres users also mentioned previous database systems they had worked on. These aren’t formal numbers, but I’d say the breakdown was close to 55% MySQL, 35% Oracle, and 5% Sybase and 5% MSSQL. Again rough numbers, but that seems about right. As the LISA crowd is heavy on system administrators, the complaints were mostly that MySQL was a pain to keep running (regular corruption issues and similar problems), and Oracle just couldn’t justify its cost. 4) One person I spoke told me about a problem they had with setting up authentication. They run a university where they initially setup authentication for students via LDAP which they thought was pretty nice. They then ran into a problem because the students had to write scripts for classes, which required them to hard-code in their ldap passwords in the scripts, which were easily read by other students. They ended up solving the problem by configuring the apache server to run files as the script owner rather than the more standard “nobody” user, which allowed them to prevent others from seeing individual scripts. This isn’t the first person I’ve run into with this type of problem; I’d love to see more people blogging on topics like this. 5) Several people asked about the business model behind Postgres. Many people get stuck in the idea that every piece of open source project has a single corporate backer/owner. I’ve been a big proponent of highlighting both the strength of the Postgres community and the nature of being a true Open Source project; so for me these are great questions to get to talk about, but it’s something we should make sure other folks volunteering for booth duty are prepared to answer. Finally, I want to say a big thanks to the folks running LISA and to the crowd at large. In a conference thin on DBA’s, we still managed to get a number of donations which will help with further advocacy efforts. I guess system admins are into solid database software too. :-)