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Report from ApacheCon 2000
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ApacheCon 2000: Day Two

The second day of ApacheCon 2000 started with a breakfast adventure. The Caribe Royale provides free breakfast to their guests--either a continental breakfast in the lobby of your building or a breakfast buffet in the main building. I made the mistake of going to the buffet. I felt like I had been transported back to summer camp, except that there were both parents and kids in the food line. The breakfast lineup included vats of slimy scrambled eggs, mystery meat, and crusty oatmeal. I think tomorrow I'll settle for the continental breakfast.

In my tour of the morning sessions, I noticed a sizeable crowd for Mark Wilcox's talk on Apache and LDAP. I had never thought much about how you might use Apache and LDAP together, but Mark discussed how the University of North Texas uses LDAP and presented compelling examples of using LDAP with Apache for access control (both user authentication and user authorization). He also presented some ideas about how LDAP might be used to help manage the configuration of Apache server farms.

In Jim Jagielski's talk on Web Hosting for Fame and Fortune, one issue that generated a far bit of discussion involved virtual hosting. The problem is figuring out how to cope when one of the sites you are hosting gets "slashdotted." Unfortunately, no one had any good solutions to this problem.

In the first keynote of the conference, Dr. Alfred Z. Spector, a Senior Technical Strategist for IBM Software and an Adjunct Professor for Columbia University Computer Science, presented his "Software Agenda". He started with a short discussion on IBM and Open Source, noting that "the world began with source" and commenting that "aggregative innovation" is one of the key benefits of Open Source. But the majority of his talk was on his concerns about the growing demand for software applications with ever increasing requirements. Spector's solution to the coming software bottleneck involves modularity and reusable abstractions, so that creating software becomes more like building a bridge. He feels that three things need to come together to make this happen:

  1. A better integrated set of programming languages, software engineering, and runtime environments for the real world.

  2. Ready access to modular components--both client and server.

  3. Changes to the education system to teach this new style of programming.

Spector acknowledges that we are making progress in this area, with technologies like Enterprise JavaBeans, but feels that we still have a long way to go. And he feels that the Open Source community can play a role in helping to achieve his agenda.

The exhibit hall opened immediately after the keynote. The O'Reilly Network had a booth and seemed to have a steady stream of people registering at their terminals. Collab.Net was giving away cool bouncy balls with LEDs inside, and we all got treated to a juggling exhibition by Geoff Thorpe of C2Net Europe. And Border's Bookstore had a booth where they were selling lots of O'Reilly books, including Apache: The Definitive Guide and Writing Apache Modules with Perl and C, as well as books on Apache by other conference participants, such as Apache Server for Dummies, by Ken A. L. Coar, and Apache Server Unleashed, by Rich Bowen, Ken Coar, et. al.

For the first afternoon session, I attended a talk by Ryan Bloom on APR, the Apache Portable Runtime. Ryan explained that while Apache is part of the name, there's nothing that ties the APR to just Apache. APR is being designed as a portable runtime API for standard system calls across all supported platforms. APR was developed because Apache was becoming harder and harder to maintain across its various platforms. The first version of APR provides only those functions that are useful to a server application like Apache because of its importance to the Apache 2.0 effort. But future versions of APR may provide additional functions that are not required by Apache, and the expectation is that APR will be moved out of the Apache source tree and become a project in its own right.

Later in the afternoon, Theo Schlossnagle gave an excellent presentation on mod_backhand, a load balancing module for Apache. mod_backhand provides an alternate solution to round-robin DNS or hardware-based proxying, with some significant advantages over each of those techniques. mod_backhand's basic approach is to allow each machine in a cluster to proxy requests to any other machine in the cluster, thereby getting around the single point of failure of a hardware-based proxy solution. Even better, because mod_backhand is tied into Apache, it can collect resource utilization data and attempt to distribute requests based on that data, which is certainly better than the random distribution provided by round-robin DNS. Research is still ongoing in the area of pre-request resource allocation algorithms, but some people are installing mod_backhand just for resource utilization data.

After Brian Behlendorf's keynote on the State of the Foundation, there was a reception on the exhibit hall floor. Unlike at the dessert party the first night, there was beer and wine, which seemed to induce a more party-like atmosphere. There were also lots of waitpeople walking around with trays of various appetizers--an improvement over most receptions, where the food is placed on a couple of tables and the lines can get prohibitively long. In this case, you just had to spot the small clusters of people hovering around the popular appetizers. I spent most of the reception talking with James Duncan Davidson, who wrote the Java Servlet API and is now doing Java/XML work for Sun. We were at the opposite end of the room from the kitchen, so it took a while for the food trays to get to us, and from my scinetific observation I can tell you that the potstickers were the most popular item at the reception.

After the reception, there was another round of "night school" classes for the really dedicated attendees. I checked out part of Greg Stein's talk on WebDAV and Apache, which had a good crowd, despite the fact that it had already been a long day for most people. WebDAV (Distributed Authoring and Versioning) is a set of extensions to the HTTP protocol that promises to turn the Web into a writable medium. Greg covered the basics of WebDAV and also gave a brief overview of using the mod_dav module, which adds DAV capabilities to Apache.

It's been a long day. I think I'm going to go check out the swimming pool before calling it a night.

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