DevConf 2018: long live containerization

DevConf is a yearly conference for developers, administrators, and users of Linux and related technologies. It is organized by Red Hat in Brno, home to one of their major development centers. This event was the 10th in a row and the largest ever. It collects Red Hat stuff from all around the world, so I met old and new Red Hat friends from all over Europe, the US, and even from Australia. Many of the talks focused on containerization, even desktop talks, like those about the Atomic Workstation. One of my favorite talks was about documentation (disclaimer: I am now part of the documentation team here at Balabit 🙂 ).

You can check the full schedule of DevConf 2018 at https://devconfcz2018.sched.com/grid, and check my twitter feed at https://twitter.com/PCzanik to see which talks I attended (I was tweeting about them live). In this blog post, I would like to highlight some of the talk and trends.

But before going into details, I want to answer a returning question. As I am not part of Red Hat, I am often asked how I learned about DevConf and why I am there. It is a long story going back to the arrival of systemd and journald. Back then, Red Hat organized a mini summit about logging as part of DevConf and I was one of the participants. That is how it started for me in 2012 and I am back most of the years ever since. Since the majority of syslog-ng users are running their logging server on Red Hat Enterprise Linux or CentOS, it is important to know their needs and the directions where RHEL is heading. It is also a good possibility to discuss logging-related questions with Red Hat engineers in person. And even without these, the conference is packed with fantastic talks.

Once I arrived in Brno, the first talk I visited was about the Fedora Modular Server. This project did not work out as expected, so while containerization is the future, the Modular Server is back to the drawing board. There were a number of talks about how Red Hat builds containers. One of their tools has a scary name – Atomic Reactor – but it actually has many useful features making container development easier.

One of my favorite talks was not technical but focused on a related topic: documentation. I still hear (horror) stories how tech writers learn about new features only when a new version of the software is (considered) ready (and are never or rarely involved while development is ongoing). Luckily, it is not the case when it comes to what I actually see in real life around me!

I spent the rest of the day in a desktop section, but not without container topics. The focus was FlatPak, a new distribution-neutral technology to package desktop software together with its dependencies. It can use containers for added isolation and security. Instead of building FlatPak packages from scratch, it is also possible to create FlatPaks out of distribution packages – like Fedora.

The second day started for me with a talk by Dan Walsh about the latest container technologies. He started his talk by placing a swear jar on the table: any time he used the “D” word, he dropped a coin in it. 🙂 He and his teams are working on tools to replace dockerd functions with more flexible and lightweight alternatives.

Next, I went to learn about what is new at Project Atomic, and there I listened to a few short status updates from Dan again. I was at the right place at the right time: after learning a lot of cool stuff about Project Atomic. we were also invited for a pizza lunch. 🙂

The “What’s up in the Linux kernel land” talk started of course with the Meltdown and Spectre related efforts in the Linux kernel. The key takeaway for me was about Linux graphics support. While for quite some time AMD was lagging behind in driver support, now they support even the latest devices in open source.

It was also very interesting to learn about how Facebook is using CentOS in their infrastructure. They have many custom changes even in core components, like the kernel or systemd.

The last day of DevConf is usually a bit more focused on Fedora and the community. It was no different this time: the opening keynote explained how Fedora, CentOS, and Red Hat work together at different speeds with different users but for a common goal: make Linux a better choice to anyone.

After the opening keynote, I listened to even more talks about how desktop users can utilize container technologies and build on Project Atomic.

I must admit that the last place I expected to see Project Atomic technologies was ARM machines, the embedded space. But as Peter Robinson explained, utilizing OSTree is a logical next step for these systems. You can upgrade a machine in the background and reboot to the new version. If there is a problem, you can easily roll back to the last known working version. Without OSTree, this can be quite a painstaking process.

I think nothing summarizes my experiences better than the fact that I hope to attend DevConf next year again!