CeBIT 2008 impressions
By user13366078 on Mar 17, 2008
CeBIT 2008, the largest IT trade show worldwide, is over. This must be my 9th CeBIT as a Sunnie, boy does time fly fast. Here are a few impressions from my point of view.
Thanks to Detlef, who set up an Ultra 40 M2 with a current Solaris Express and Sun xVM Server for us (here's a nice writeup (sorry, in german) on how he did it, in case you want to try out xVM yourself), buildup was done really quickly. We had two monitors attached to the machine and thanks to NVIDIA's "nvidia-settings" tool that they ship with the Solaris NVIDIA drivers, setting up Twinview was a piece of cake too.
Then we set up the Compiz window manager to run on our Solaris Ultra 40 M2. Few people know what it is (it adds some 3D eye candy to your desktop, similar to Apple's) and even fewer know that it runs on Solaris as well. Thanks to Erwann, installing Compiz is just a matter of running a script. Even if you have an ATI card, you're likely to be able to run Compiz, thanks to Minskey's preliminary driver. It runs just fine on my Acer Ferrari 4000 laptop!
But then we found out that running many virtual OSes on a machine requires quite some amount of memory. Our 8 GB inside the Ultra 40 M2 wasn't enough for the different versions of Solaris, Linux and Windows that we had installed. So we hunted down an unsuspecting little Sun Blade X6220 module and ripped it open for an extra 4 GB. To the right, you see Ulrich performing the upgrade, Systemhero-like (i.e. no anti-static mats or straps, those are for sissies...). Now there was enough air to breathe for our virtualized OSes, the booth was ready to go!
Day 1 wasn't the busiest day, as expected, but it kept us quite entertained. Mario Heide from the german POFACS podcast stopped by and we explored a few things we could do for future episodes.
High-End Visualization: There was also quite an interest from the automotive industry in trying the Sun Fire X4600 M2 8-socket Opteron Server with up to 256 GB of RAM with the NVIDIA Quadro Plex VCS external graphics cards as a really big workstation, or a network visualization server. The LRZ supercomputer center near Munich is already using such as setup to provide virtualized remote graphics power to their researchers and now the manufacturing industry is starting to like the idea. An ideal companion for this is Sun's suite of visualization software that provides both scalable and shared approaches to high-end visualization. Try it out, it's free and open source.
Optimizing AMP: Another popular question was: "How can I optimize the AMP stack on Solaris and Sun Hardware?" Each day, I pointed about a dozen customers to our Cool Stack homepage, which is part of the Cool Tools developed by Sun for the UltraSPARC T1/T2 processors. The Cool Stack is simply a set of popular web apps (you know, Apache, MySQL, Perl, PHP, Tomcat and friends) which have been precompiled by Sun for Solaris on both x86 and SPARC architectures. Since we compile with Sun Studio compilers using the right options and integrate them with selected Solaris technologies, such as the cryptographic framework, using the Cool Stack is both easy to do and it provides great out-of-the-box performance.
All the other days were very busy. Loads of people, loads of questions lots of interest in Sun technologies, both in hardware and in software. The great thing about this particular CeBIT and the new Sun booth, now in Hall 2 was that the people who came by were all relevant to Sun. We hardly had any "bag-rats" at all, so I guess this is as good as it gets in terms of visitor quality. Visitors ranged from high-level IT executives through middle-management, system administrators, hackers, students and Sun/Solaris enthusiasts.
Sun Ray and Sun Secure Global Desktop: We also had schools looking at our Sun Ray and Sun Secure Global Desktop solutions as a flexible, secure, cost-effective and eco-friendly infrastructure for their schools. Actually, Sun Ray technologies were among the hottest topics discussed during this CeBIT at the Sun booth, not just for schools but also for any kind of environment that is sick and tired of having to upgrade Windows or Linux PCs every couple of years. Also call centers, branch offices and a couple of special applications such as kiosks are very good fits for Sun Rays.
Sun xVM was another hot topic. Having been at the Sun xVM pod with Ulrich and Detlef, we explained numerous times how the Sun xVM Server adds value to the work of the Xen community by providing Solaris technologies as the better foundation for virtual machines of all OSes. The Solaris Fault Manager can monitor your hardware and trigger virtual machine migration before the hardware starts failing for real, increasing uptime for your virtualized applications. This can work hand in hand with the Solaris Cluster, which adds high-availability features to virtualized OSes. ZFS is a great tool for providing fast, flexible, integrity-checked and powerful storage through iSCSI, NFS, CIFS or other protocols to virtualized environments. And there's much more, for example the Solaris Crossbow project which adds fully virtualized and bandwidth-managed network devices to the picture, enabling full network-in-a-box virtualization approaches. Oh, and when a virtual machine fails, you can debug it with DTrace, too. Levon has some nice examples about DTrace and Xen working together!
Sexy Hardware: No Sun booth at CeBIT without showing off some tin and this year was no exception. For starters, we had a datacenter with Sun's newest UltraSPARC T2, AMD and Intel based servers, both in rack-mount and in blade form factors. Of course we also had some storage arrays and a big tape library to show off.
But the big eyecatcher was the Sun Modular Datacenter S20 (formerly known as "Project Black Box") which was so big and so eye-catching that we had to place it outside the halls, near the Intel pavillion. Our heroic product manager Ingo explained everything about project Black Box to customers, including more than a handful of TV stations. Even at 4 o'clock in the morning, for the ARD TV station's breakfast TV show...
Back to Solaris: The nice thing about Solaris at CeBIT 2008 was that we hardly needed to explain to people that it is free and open source. Most visitors already knew this and came to visit us specifically to learn some more about a particular Solaris feature, grab a Solaris Express Developer Edition DVD or ask questions about how to best deploy Solaris in their environment. One system administrator actually thanked us for producing our CSI:Munich ZFS video because it helped him gain his boss' support for deploying ZFS in their company. The boss just said: "If this really works, then we need to roll it out now!" (Of course it "really worked"). Actually, ZFS was one of the most popular discussion topics, and I logged in to my home machine more than once to show some real life, production snapshots, pools and other ZFS features on a living, breathing system.
Getting Started with Solaris: We handed out a lot of Solaris Express: Developer Edition DVDs and to get people going and avoid the initial humps of first-time Solaris users, we pointed visitors to the same essential and useful links over and over again. This inspired me to post an entry into the german Solarium blog with the 7 Most Useful Solaris and OpenSolaris links. Now I only need to point customers to a single website for all their initial Solaris needs: The Solarium.
Helping and Learning: But we learned a lot of new stuff, too. Not only are Ulrich and Detlef great sources of endless Solaris knowledge (them being OS Ambassadors at Sun), I also had a number of very illuminating conversations with customers and visitors. Thorsten Ludewig of the Wolfenbüttel University of Applied Sciences updated me on the state of the art of digital picture frames. A guy from Konstanz University pointed me to a small company in Switzerland called "PC Engines" that manufactures small form factor systems with good quality. I'm looking for a small, low-power system as a backup server at home and this might be it. He's running NetBSD on these systems for small and home server tasks, but I wonder if they work with Solaris as well. At only 256 MB it might be a stretch but not impossible. Other options I'm considering are VIA's Artigo kit or maybe a standard Via motherboard in an ITX case after all? Let me know if you have experience with Solaris on very small, very low-power machines.
Meeting Customers and Interests: CeBIT, like any major trade show is a great way to connect with customers and interests. Sometimes it's a way of meeting people you only knew virtually. In this case, we had three fans of the Systemhelden.com podcast HELDENFunk visit us at the booth: Graefin, Chaosblog and Unruheherd. All three came in white Sun T-Shirts which could only be rewarded with new black Systemhelden.com T-Shirts :). We had a great time during the Sun booth party that day and according to Chaosblog's latest entry, they seem to have had a fun time at CeBIT a well.
In closing, this was probably one of the best CeBITs I've ever had. Customers and partners like Sun, they are excited about our technology and they want more. Some know us because of our Software and were suprised to learn that we have hardware, too (this is a good sign), some come to see our hardware and discover our software portfolio (this case is slightly more common) and all want us to win, which is a good feeling :).
Check out my CeBIT 2008 photo gallery on SmugMug for some more impressions of the Sun booth @ CeBIT with comments.
Oh, Rolf brought some beer to celebrate. Cheers!