November 25, 2011

The Foundation provided a travel grant to Bjoern Zeeb to attend the Google Summer of Code Mentor Summit and the FreeBSD Vendor Summit. Bjoern’s trip report is as follows:

Thank you for helping with my travel costs to the Google Summer of Code Mentor Summit and the FreeBSD Vendor Summit.

Google Summer of Code Mentor Summit

Google’s registration requirements and provided wiki space made it possible to coordinate travel with others, which allowed me to make first contact with mentors from other Open Source projects even before I left and obviously I ran into more geeks by the time I got to the airport.

Saturday morning the Google buses picked us up. After an excellent breakfast, there were important rules during the opening session: do not go beyond the areas where we have put up signs. This was obviously the largest mentor summit so far as the classic un-conference approach for finding topics and rooms no longer scaled. Since the schedule changed regularly, it wasn’t possible to attend all the sessions I had planned, especially on Sunday. Let me highlight a few:

  • Umbrella Organizations (Admins and Mentors meeting): while this does not directly apply to FreeBSD, I was curious to see what kinds of problems other organizations were facing and whether they have some interesting ways to solve their issues that could also help FreeBSD. I was overwhelmed by the real problems I heard about and it made me realize how well organized and well run FreeBSD is. On a side note, I learned that KDE had 50 GSoC slots, which I wish FreeBSD could handle as well. One interesting idea that came up was that some organizations are either providing web forms or spreadsheets for mentors and students to more easily keep track not only of progress but also for catching interaction problems. Given FreeBSD has the weekly or bi-weekly mailing list updates, tells students to let admins know in case of problems with their mentor, we are not too far away from that but it could certainly simplify some tracking for admins.
  • Women in Open Source: there were multiple sessions on this. For me a lot of the discussions did not go too far into the topic of attracting more women to open source development. Only Gnome has hosted women summer outreach programs in the past, which was interesting to hear about. One important item is to provide dedicated mentors upfront that women can talk to one-to-one and that a list of these would be available all year long. Astonishingly the discussions often went along the reasoning of not driving woman away rather than attracting them in first place; there were plenty of suggestions of what not to do, and what to do to help them stay.
  • Marketing and Open Source: a topic that FreeBSD needs to get further up to speed on. A lot of talk was how to help commercialize an open source project. Social Media, videos, and local communities were also big discussion items. Some ideas were: leveraging users by providing pamphlets and posters that they can distribute, advertise at events, and use references and independent reviewers on the web page. PostgreSQL is doing a good job and we should leverage some of their ideas.
  • Open Source OS summit: this was one of the most interesting discussion groups during the weekend. It is like an organized hallway track with everyone but Linux in the room. Major topics were: combined arm twisting of vendors to not only help one but many projects, firmware licensing, shared documentation (such as data sheets) repository, and possibly setting up a mailing list to coordinate. It was interesting to learn beyond other informal discussions how many other projects such as RTEMS, Haiku, and Illumos take bits and pieces from FreeBSD and wondering why we don’t talk a lot more or invite them to our devsummits. Another thing to consider is how to “sell” the project – which reaches into the marketing but also a funding discussion. Should a project just provide the source and let the ecosystem create distributions? Would commercial support on top be an option?
  • The hallway track and dinner conversations: in addition to the Open Source OS summit session, this was most helpful for getting in touch with other BSD consumers and projects which we consume. I had extended chats with Illumos people pondering collaboration on some topics, talks with NTP folks, discussions on the network stack with RTMES, and I also got to know MoinMoin folks who are quite local to me and who could immediately help me to solve a problem so that we can easily have links on the wiki to SVN commits. My other hallway track item was to debug why IPv6 on the Google guest network did not work for me. The problem has since been worked around and IPv6 should work flawlessly for everyone there now. The diagnosing on why it only affected certain people or possibly only BSD (derived) operating systems continues.

All in all it was a productive, informative, fun weekend. Now that I am back home, I’ll need to follow-up on some of the possible collaboration ideas.

The FreeBSD Vendor Summit

The FreeSBD vendor summit, a couple of days later, continued to provide insights on what people need or want from FreeBSD. It was even more interesting to hear about what was cooking and what people considered to give back. The general trend to push changes not considered to be IP back to FreeBSD continues and makes me believe that in some ways things are going better in our world. The afternoon was almost all about virtualization. We heard about FreeBSD on Microsoft Hyper-V and talked a bit about EC2, Xen, bhyve, as well as tools and frameworks to help to simplify the usage of FreeBSD in or for virtualized environments. At the end of the day I started to look at the virtio drivers for Peter to commit them to HEAD and we got the QLogic 10G driver into the tree as well. In addition to the session, the breaks provided some time to informally chat with the other participants. It would have been great to have some time the following day to continue these informal group discussions but BSDCan is only a couple of months away. Having such an event at least twice a year is extremely helpful and my thanks goes to George for running this!