Coder’s Vacation : #RICON2012 Shreds the House!

Here I am on day #3 of my Coder’s Vacation and RICON is happening today. This is a new conference put together by the fine folks at Basho, maker of Riak (which note, is a link to the project on Github because Basho is awesome like that, they roll all open source like). However, it’s a little different and way more honest than most conferences put on by a company. Sure, there’s talk about Basho and Riak and such, but overall the conference is about distributed systems. The byline of the conference, “A Distributed Systems Conference for Developers” is not a lie. It’s hard core about systems, data and getting things built by and for people who have ideas and know about how to put these things together. To summarize RICON in one phrase, it is “BAD ASS!” Hit up the #ricon2012 twitter stream for more on this.

Conference Kick Off:

Don Rippert of Basho (CEO) took the stage and brought up one of those points, that many in the industry take for granted, but it is rarely spoke. He pointed out, and I’m paraphrasing here, that the cloud, cloud computing, nosql and all these other things really amount to one giant shift i computing. That giant shift is a move to a better way combining things together through distributed systems. Simply put focusing on nosql or cloud or whatever word that marketing and the media latches onto is just a distraction. The real focus comes down to distributed systems. Sometimes, the smartest thing to state is the obvious thing, because nobody else is pointing it out. That simple thing brings about a greater realization of what is important versus what is just noise.

That leaves me with the question though, are we as an industry starting to get it? I think that’s a good question.

Joseph Hellerstein, Professor, UC Berkeley

…with a little about him from the RICON site:

Joseph M. Hellerstein is a Chancellor’s Professor of Computer Science at the University of California, Berkeley, whose work focuses on data-centric systems and the way they drive computing. He is an ACM Fellow, an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow and the recipient of two ACM-SIGMOD “Test of Time” awards for his research. In 2010, Fortune Magazine included him in their list of 50 smartest people in technology, and MIT’s Technology Review magazine included his Bloom language for cloud computing on their TR10 list of the 10 technologies “most likely to change our world”. A past research lab director for Intel, Hellerstein maintains an active role in the high tech industry, currently serving on the technical advisory boards of a number of computing and Internet companies including EMC, SurveyMonkey, Platfora and Captricity.

I also really enjoyed his talk. He took a correlation between distributed systems, data and the British Empire. Correlating things, especially complex and advanced things to something like the British Empire just adds an entertaining twist to it all. Again, a description from the RICON 2012 Site:

Conventional distributed systems wisdom dictates that perfect consistency is too expensive to guarantee in general, and consistency mechanisms—if you use them at all—should be reserved for infrequent, small-scale, mission-critical tasks. Like most design maxims, these ideas are not so easy to translate into practice; all kinds of unavoidable tactical questions pop up, e.g.:

– Exactly where in my multifaceted system is loose consistency “good enough” to meet application needs?

– How do I know that my “mission-critical” software isn’t tainted by my “best effort” components?

– How do I ensure that my design maxims are maintained as software and developer teams evolve?

Until recently, answers to these questions have been more a matter of folklore than mathematics. (One way to tell the difference: a good answer is enforceable by a compiler.)

In this talk, I will describe the CALM Theorem that links Consistency And Logical Monotonicity, and discuss how it can inform distributed software development. I’ll also give a taste of Bloom, a “disorderly” distributed programming language whose compiler can automatically answer questions like the ones above. Along the way, I’ll try to shed light on side questions like “Should Paxos exist?” and “Causality: What is it good for?”

More updates, and the code for my #PhatData Project are coming up. So subscribe, stay tuned, keep reading it’ll be up soon. Cheers!