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Crappy sandwiches, cantankerous nerds: Put user back in user group

Live from a VMUG? Worth a try...

Sysadmin Blog I am going to moderate a webinar today*. The webinar is about the real world implications of copying data and cloning VMs. The interesting bit? We're going to try this with video conferencing, live from the Wisconsin VMware User Group meeting (VMUG).

To my knowledge, this has never been done before. That probably means it's a completely insane plan. Having attempted to beat WebEx into some semblance of submission in the pre-event runs, I'm inclined to think we've bitten off more than we can chew. That said, the deal is struck and the attempt will be made.

So why did we come up with this hare-brained scheme in the first place? I can't speak for what was going around in Josh Folland's head when he proposed it – for this is entirely his monster – but I know why I liked it.

Webinars are always vendor pitches. Vendors sponsor them because they want to sell you something, and that's boring. By working with vendors I get the occasional chance to break a marketing exec out of their comfort zone and do something interesting. When Josh proposed this, lots of dots started connecting.

The problem with VMUGs

VMUGs – indeed user groups of any kind in tech – have a very similar problem. In order to exist they need sponsors. To rent the space, if nothing else. Of course sponsors want to make the events about them, and the smaller VMUGs tend to become nothing more than a series of vendor presentations with some mediocre sandwiches punctuated by nerds arguing.

VMUG leaders and participants are constantly looking for ways to highlight the "user" in "user group". By turning a breakout session into something where we can let attendees at the Catalogic break-out session at the Wisconsin VMUG discuss the topic with webinar attendees and panelists from around the world I am hoping that we get a chance to kill two birds with one stone.

Of course, there is every possibility this blows up in our faces, or that no one attends either the break-out session or the webinar. These things are never certain. I believe, however, that it is important to try.

The topic of discussion

The topic is the real world implications of copying data and cloning VMs. Or, phrased differently, how to deal with the fact that when you clone a VM everything from unique IDs to network settings tend to cause trouble in the newly cloned VM.

Your standard CentOS 6 install in a VM, for example, needs some TLC if you want it to pick up network cards with a different MAC address and make them usable on boot. Cloning a VM without genericization (including the networking) leads to annoying busywork. In windows, you'd generally at least sysprep.

The sponsor of our mad attempt – Catalogic – sells software that is all about making and managing copies of data, mostly VMs. They've had to solve some of the problems related VM cloning, they say they have more solutions coming in a future version and I am sure there are few issues yet to be resolved. Groovy for them. By showing they're working on this, hopefully they'll get some folks interested in what they do.

From my point of view, however, this is a very real issue that VMware users have to deal with in the real world. I certainly do. Given that most of my interaction with VMware now is about benchmarking, testing and reviews a lot of my life focuses around templates, clones, snapshots and the like. I want to hear what other VMware users have to say on the topic so I can steal all their ideas.

Some VMUGs, such as the London VMUG, are huge. They may not need to connect with folks outside the event itself in order to make it interesting. Their events can have almost 200 people, with the London usercon getting to 500.

To contrast, the Edmonton VMUG is doing really well if 30 people show up. Spicecorps or LUG meetings can host as few as five people. The ability to add 30, 50 or 100+ attendees remotely, along with a panel of experts different from the same two people who always talk the user group meetings could be a boost. That's what I'm hoping for.

I hope Webex behaves and the A/V guys on site get the wiring right, that the bandwidth is enough for the video and that we can focus on the attendee discussion.

So why not join us? If we fail, it will be funny, and you can learn from our mistakes. But if we succeed, we might well open up a fun way to help put the user back in user group.

Please add your ideas for how to encourage attendee participation in user groups in the comments section. Keeping user groups interesting is an exercise for us all.

*The webinar takes place during the break-out session at the Wisconsin VMUG and is scheduled for 15:20 Eastern, which is 12:20 Pacific and 20:20 UK time.


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