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ApacheCon 2000 Europe Conference Report :

Report from the third Apache conference

First published: 3rd November 2000

Report from ApacheCon Europe 2000

This is a special report covering the ApacheCon 2000 conference in Europe held in London.

First published 3rd November 2000.

ApacheCon Europe 2000, the first ApacheCon outside USA was held on Apache Week's home ground from October 23rd to October 25th. As promised, Apache Week was there in London to cover the conference.

Early Monday morning at 8 am, we had a brisk walk from the Hilton London Olympia hotel where we were staying to the Olympia Conference Center about three blocks away. There was no fear of losing our way as shortly after leaving the hotel, we were greeted by a succession of signboards displaying the familiar Apache feather, leading us straight to the conference center.

Our first day did not really get off to a good start as during the registration our records were not found in the database. Luckily the organizers were efficient enough to resolve this problem quickly and we were handed our passes and complimentary ApacheCon bags containing three thick manuals of conference proceedings and other goodies.

As the conference package included light breakfast and lunch for all days registered, we all had empty stomachs that morning. We really should have taken the word "light" literally as to our dismay breakfast consisted of only one plate of biscuits per table, and tea or coffee. The only difference was you could keep your dirty cup after you had drunk your coffee or tea. As this was the case, there were plenty of seats for us to take our pick but like the other attendees, we did not stay long for breakfast.

The conference had three main parallel "unthemed" tracks of classes or talks with one hour, one and a half hours or two hours time slots. There were a total of 42 classes, covering the Apache web server, XML, Java, mod_perl, PHP, and a case study of the real-life implementation of the Apache web server. The classes were spread over three days, including a busy Monday that packed in 21 of the 42 classes. There was also an additional concurrent track of talks by vendors namely, Sun Microsystems, IBM, MyComponents.com, and Oracle, with a sprinkling of BoFs (Bird of a Feather sessions) as well.

Opening Plenary

As we were approaching the auditorium for the opening session at 9 am, strains of a western tune drifted to our ears and for a split second when we stepped into the room, we thought we were transported back in time to the wild, wild west as the formidable figure of Ken Coar loomed above us on the stage with a cowboy hat on his head. Later he revealed that the piece of music we heard was "Apache", one of the many western-themed hits by the Shadows who reigned unchallenged as Britain's top band between 1960 and 1963.

After the welcoming speech, Ken Coar proceeded to give an update on the schedule where one talk was cancelled and a few were swapped. This was not good news for those who had already decided on the talks that they were going to attend. For the few unlucky ones, this change caused their chosen talks to be back to back so they have to go through the mind-boggling task of making a choice again. The official number of pre-registered attendees was about 900.

XML from Outer Space and Apache 2.0

For my first of the seven classes on the first day, I decided to attend "Toward the Semantic Web: a View of XML from Outer Space" given by Stefano Mazzocci, Cocoon's creator in the Apache Cocoon project. The attendance was so high, that even with extra chairs some delegates were left sitting on the floor. This talk gave a clear explanation of the XML model and the "semantic web", covering many of the technologies that the W3C are developing to shape the future of the World Wide Web. Stefano described the ways in which XML can be used to overcome some of the problems inherent in today's Web, and demonstrated how they can be implemented using Cocoon, Xalan, and other Apache projects.

After 2 hours of XML, an hour of Apache 2.0 by Ryan Bloom was my next stop. The major changes in Apache 2.0 are the implementation of MPM (Multiple-Processing Modules), APR (Apache Portable Run-Time) and I/O filtering. No release date was decided for an Apache 2.0 beta, although Ryan promised it would be as soon as possible.

Lunch

Lunch was served between 12 pm and 2 pm but talks were still being held during these two hours so it was either lunch or class. At 1 pm, I had no choice but to forgo a class as hunger beckoned and I joined one of the two long queues to collect my meal at the reception and bars area. Seats were limited but as the turnaround time was quick (no one loitered at the lunch tables), everyone managed to find a place at the tables in the end. A bit short on space but at least it worked out well. After a meal that was nothing to shout about, I had just enough time to drop by the Sun's Internet Pavilion to check out my emails before joining the next class at 2 pm.

More talks

It was time for a change so I joined a business-oriented talk instead of another technical one. Peter Moulding gave a few useful tips for convicing higher management to use Apache instead of other proprietary web servers in his "Apache in the Real World - Beating the In-house Bias" talk.

After this was another two hours slot class and it was "Introduction to Apache Server" by Rich Bowen for me. This class was more for users new to Apache so I left halfway to listen to "AxKit - an XML Delivery Toolkit for Apache" presented by Matt Sergeant. AxKit is implemented as a Perl Apache module using mod_perl that provides on-the-fly conversion from XML to a variety of format, such as HTML and WML for WAP phones. It provides similar functionality to Cocoon.

After attending four classes and missing one due to lunch, there were two more talks to go with 3 hours in total, an hour and a half each. Sterling Hughes, co-author of the soon-to-be-published-in-November "The PHP Developer's Cookbook" gave a very technical talk on "Extending PHP4" covering the PHP API and compiling a PHP extension in detail. The talk covered the new scripting engine in PHP 4, Zend. Like a traditional interpreter, the old PHP scripting engine would execute scripts while parsing them. The new Zend engine operates using the more efficient model of pre-compiling the script.

The last class of the first day was a highly entertaining and animated talk by Ralf S. Engelschall, author of mod_ssl, mod_rewrite, and much more. The talk, "Security Solutions with SSL", covered the evolution of mod_ssl, described its features, and gave twelve useful configuration examples. Each of the beautifully presented slides included an amusing quote to lighten up the atmosphere of this heavy subject.

The LongevIT Spa

After a long day of exhausting technical classes, it was time for a relaxing night event named "The LongevIT Spa" at the Rock sponsored by IBM WebSphere. Round trip transportation from the Olympia Center was provided. Most delegates had absolutely no idea where the coaches were taking them. The Rock is a newly opened nightclub. There were free cocktails and beers; head, neck and shoulder massage; and two virtual reality simulators that emitted smells too but we were too conservative to give the latter two a try.

Despite the free flowing drinks, sushi and loud music, we were desperate for a decent meal at 10 pm so we nipped out for dinner and were back by 11 pm for the coach back to our hotel. In doing so, we missed the raffle and the bag of goodies given away by IBM - a pair of slippers, t-shirt, CD-ROM and etc. We were real tired when we reached the hotel and could barely walked to our room. What a day!


ApacheCon Europe 2000: Day 2

The schedule for the second day was not as punishing as the first day. There were only a total of 12 classes held on this day with only four to attend with three keynotes. There was ample time for lunch and for visiting the exhibition that didn't start until 12 pm.

Sun Microsystems Keynote

The first session of the second day was "JCP (Java Community Process) and Apache" presented by George Paolini, Vice President of Technologies and Advocacy. Basically he talked about the role Sun has working with Apache Software Foundation and the roadmap for the Java 2 platform.

Configuring Apache and mod_perl Applications

Juggling between Java Application Servers, mod_snake, and mod_perl, I finally dropped the former two and settled on the latter. In a nutshell, Eric Cholet talked about configuring Apache with Perl using <Perl> sections and @PerlConfig, and configuring mod_perl applications using PerlSetVar and custom configuration directives. The main question is why would anyone write Perl codes inside Apache httpd.conf file? One of the benefits is that in a many virtual hosts environment, Perl codes can be used within the httpd.conf to generate suitable values for directives based on some external variables.

IBM Keynote

Next Dr Kristof Kloeckner, Vice President of Business Integration Development and Director from IBM Hursley Laboratory enlightened us on how IBM relates to open source both as a contributor and a beneficiary.

Exhibition

Soon it was lunchtime. Only an hour of IBM Management Briefing, "Infrastructure for Web Services" in the Vendor Theatre overlapped with the two hours lunchtime so there was time to visit the exhibition. Around eighteen companies including IBM, Sun Microsystems, Covalent Technologies, Thawte, Zend Technologies Ltd, Eliad Technologies took part in the trade show. There were a coffee stand in Sun's booth and two romper rooms with pinball machines and two Sega Racing Arcade machines. We picked up more freebies such as a Tomcat cup and t-shirt, cap, and magazines and even tried our hand at a pinball machine but alas, we were not Brooke Shields.

More Talks

Soon it was time for three more classes within the next four hours before the long awaited guest keynote by Douglas Adams. I filled the next three hours with Tomcat by attending "Migrating Apache JServ Applications to Tomcat" by Craig McClanahan and "Advanced Tomcat Configuration and Performance Tuning" by Costin Manolache who was a fast speaker and completed his very technical talk in just an hour within his two hours slot. Then it was an hour of "Improving script and handler performance under mod_perl" by Stas Bekman who unfortunately had to wrap up his talk quickly as delegates were waiting to enter the room for the final keynote of the day.

Covalent Technologies Guest Keynote

"Living in a Virtual World" was the keynote everyone was waiting for. The whole auditorium was filled to the brink and the audience were not let down as Douglas Adams soon had them in stitches with his urban myths and unique perspective about computers.

Reception

The last event for the second day was the reception serving cocktails and hors d'oeuvers on the Exhibit Floor. "Bop Ad" was definitely the STAR of the day as fans, ASF members and fellow Apache enthusiasts alike queued for his autograph and a free paperback copy of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". With that, I ended the day and retreated to the haven of my hotel room.


ApacheCon Europe 2000: Day 3

On Wednesday, I was late for the first talk of the day, as I had to check out from my hotel. On this final day of the conference, there were only a total of nine talks running in the three concurrent tracks, two keynotes, a book-signing event, a few vendor presentations by MyComponents.com and Oracle, and not forgetting the closing plenary.

Managing your Web Site with Cocoon

When I reached the center at quarter-past nine, all three talks had started. I planned to attend "Running a Successful Web Hosting Business" by Frank DeChellis, one of the two business-oriented talks in this conference. Peering through the glass panel in the door, I couldn't find an available seat in that class so I sneaked unnoticed into the auditorium instead. This turned out to be a good choice, as the talk "Managing your Web Site with Cocoon" was very well presented by Doug Tidwell. Doug, author of an upcoming book on XSLT, demonstrated how the array of tools written by the Apache XML project (including Cocoon, Xerces, Xalan, and FOP) could be used to perform server-side transformations of XML documents. From a single XML document, HTML, PDF and WML could all be served to the client.

Oracle Keynote

Next came the Oracle keynote titled "Convincing Management to Embrace Open Software Development" by Brian Behlendorf, president of the Apache Software Foundation and cofounder of CollabNet. He gave a brief definition of open source, and the various licences used such as the Apache Licence, GNU General Public Licence and Mozilla Public Licence. He described how open source software is designed and built using the collective wisdom of a group of developers, with contributions from a large user community. When I heard the word "collective", images of the Borg flashed through my mind. Brian also offered some tips on how to make lawyers less nervous and ended the talk by sharing a list of free buzzwords: "reduce time to market", "increase margins", "expand public mind share" and "take ownership of your future", with the audience.

Lunch and Exhibition

The exhibition hours were only from 12 pm to 6 pm but outsiders were still registering on-site for exhibition passes. I was slightly taken aback when I was stopped and asked to show my pass (it was hidden under my jacket) at the exhibition entrance but I guess they were just being careful. During the two-hour lunch break from the main talks, presentations by vendors were still in progress. I ate lunch leisurely as most delegates had already taken theirs and no one was waiting for my seat. I had a pleasant conversation with two participants from Germany and the USA during lunch. The latter only heard about ApacheCon after the Orlando event. Instead of waiting for the next ApacheCon in the USA, he persuaded his company to send him to this one. The former was in charge of migrating his Netscape web server to the Apache web server all by himself. Both of them were very satisfied with the quality of this conference and the useful technical details that they managed to absorb from the talks. Oblivious to time, I missed the Wrox Press book-signing event at 1 pm by Peter Wainwright, author of "Professional Apache" but still, I managed to pick up a cute horsey toy known as "CocoJ" from Eliad Technologies booth.

More talks and keynote

At 2 pm, I was off to "mod_perl Version 2.0" given by Doug MacEachern. Because of the architectural changes in Apache 2.0, particularly the introduction of thread support, mod_perl has been rewritten from scratch. The presentation was served by Apache 2.0 and the development version of mod_perl 2.0, and Doug demonstrated use of some of the more advanced features of Apache 2 which are supported in mod_perl 2, including I/O filtering.

Soon James Davidson took over the stage for the "Guru Keynote" session titled "Jakarta Perspective". This was his personal account of the origins and goals of the Jakarta project. In a spontaneous talk, he reminisced about the history and progress of Tomcat and Ant including an insight into the various obstacles that had to be overcome in getting the ASF and Sun together. In his zest to deliver an up-close and personal look at Tomcat, users unfamiliar with the Jakarta project might have complained that he had neglected to give a clear definition of the Jakarta project. Nevertheless I enjoyed the talk as it provided a glimpse into Tomcat's roots.

For the final 2-hour class of the conference, I attended the talk, "The Backhand Project: Load-Balancing and Monitoring Apache Web Clusters" by Theo Schlossnagle. He clarified the differences between "load balancing" and "high availability" since they are often used interchangeably to mean both. Both mod_backhand and mod_log_spread were covered in this talk. Back to back with this class was "WebDAV and Apache" by Greg Stein which other delegates from Apache Week reported was an excellent talk about WebDAV and mod_dav.

Wrap-Up Plenary

The closing session hosted by Ken Coar saw only one third of the attendance of the opening plenary. He announced that there were about 1200 registrants (20 percent more than at Apachecon 2000 Orlando) with around half attending only the exhibition. With a panel of ASF members on stage, it was time for comments about the conference. The overall feedback was positive. Some complaints were that the Monday schedule was too tight and the Internet access was slow and not very reliable. One suggestion was to introduce lightning sessions where speakers would talk for five minutes on a subject. Hands-on sessions in the evenings were also suggested.

While most attendees came from Europe, there were also some from the USA, Canada, South America and even all the way from Japan. Delegates who attended both ApacheCon conferences this year commented that ApacheCon Europe was definitely better than the previous one held in Orlando. If this is the trend then it is good news as we can expect more improvement in the next ApacheCon, which will be held in Santa Clara, California from April 4th to April 6th. The location for the next ApacheCon to be held outside the USA is yet to be determined, but a hint was dropped about Australia.

Impressions

As in all conferences, there were various technical glitches when presentation laptops froze and batteries ran out, some inexperienced speakers, and not enough seats but these were all minor issues considering the excellent detailed technical knowledge that was imparted by the speakers. An annoying distraction was the occasional ringing of mobile phones during the talks. Perhaps the audience need to be reminded to switch off their cell phones at the start of presentations.

My personal opinion is that it is very important to pick suitable talks to attend based on your own requirements, as all of them seemed very interesting from the abstract provided. As soon as you are aware that the talk is not what you expect it to be, you must just walk out and join another talk. This may seem very rude to the speaker but to make the most of the conference, this is the only way. One suggestion is for the planning committee to indicate the level of technical knowledge required for the talk, so delegates can make a better choice depending on their own expertise. This conference was most suitable for "technical technical" people who wanted to know in depth about a certain subject and to talk to the authors of various modules but it also catered for higher-level managers and new users. With that, I end my report and hope to see you all at ApacheCon 2001 in Silicon Valley next year!


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