BrainShare 2010

March 27, 2010

What is BrainShare?

BrainShare, Novell‘s annual expo in Salt Lake City, has been lauded as one of the premier technical conferences in the IT industry for more than 20 years. Over the years, it has grown both in numbers and scope, and had morphed to the point where it had become as famous for the over-the-top concerts (including Earth, Wind and Fire, Train, Huey Lewis and the News, and Styx) as for the technical content. In 2009, for the first time in the history of the event, Novell announced that they were canceling BrainShare, citing industry-wide budget tightening and a generally sluggish economy.

In response to that unprecedented decision, Novell formed a BrainShare advisory council, composed of company representatives, key vendors, and selected customers to consider how best to reformat and bring back the conference for 2010.

The transformation was nothing short of miraculous. They listened to the feedback, which overwhelmingly favored the technical excellence, and produced a reborn BrainShare conference that (to quote John Dragoon, SVP and CMO) went back to its roots as a technical conference for technical people. The result was arguably the best BrainShare I’ve attended, and this was my 13th. It was shorter (4 days instead of 5), more focused (less redundancy) and had minimal distractions (e.g. parties). The technical content was superb, with dozens of Advanced Technical Training (ATT) hands-on classes, 200+ product-focused technical sessions, and 20+ hands-on installation/migration labs.

What did I learn

Here are my key takeaways from BS 2010:

  • After 3+ years of stumbling with a premature release, ZENworks Configuration Management (ZCM) is finally ready for prime time with v10.2 (and the upcoming v10.3). Because implementation of ZCM is essentially a rip-and-replace of our very stable ZENworks Desktop Management v7 environment, I had been dragging my feet. Now, both the product and the migration tools have evolved so I’m ready to proceed.
  • Similarly, iFolder v3.8 has finally re-introduced the administrative controls that had been stripped when they moved from v2.1 (NetWare) to v3.x (Linux/Mono). The open-source community rejoiced that move, but the corporate community rebelled. Novell listened, and they have now released a version that is easily managed by policy, and involves an upgrade from the client side, rather than a cumbersome migration process.
  • ZENworks Application Virtualization (ZAV) has some very interesting real-world use cases. For instance, I can see the value of delivering IE6 to workstations running IE7 or IE8 (especially Vista or Windows 7, which won’t even run IE6), specifically for backwards compatibility with old web apps.
  • In the Futures department, I was most excited by Novell’s Cloud Security Service. This product features Single Sign-on and Provisioning (and more importantly, De-Provisioning) for all of our Cloud (SaaS) applications from one console, using our existing LDAP directory. We already have at least five SaaS services in our enterprise (with more to come), each with different credentials and identity management – in some cases, I don’t even know who handles them. This would pull them all together into our current identity management process.
  • I would love to bring up Teaming and begin generating some grass roots interest. And I’ll do just that with the free 20-user Starter Pack license that Novell is offering. But I’m not sure it will go much farther than that because of the pricing. Hey Novell, Teaming costs too much.
  • I don’t ‘get’ Pulse. But I don’t ‘get’ Google Wave either, and I didn’t ‘get’ Facebook until just over a year ago. I imagine that I will eventually begin to understand Google Wave (as it evolves), and when that happens, I’ll be glad that Pulse is around to provide a secure corporate integration with Wave.

No, it wasn’t just a total geek-fest

In addition to the technical excellence, the evening events were still fun, just not as numerous or crazily as over-the-top as previous years.

  • Upon arrival on Sunday night, I headed over to the Gateway Theater for GWAVA‘s annual private movie for the GroupWise community. This year was The Bounty Hunter – a cute chick flick with just enough humor and action to make it fun for the guys too.
  • Monday night was a fundraiser party for Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA). They have had smaller benefit functions at two previous BrainShares, but this one was conference-wide and featured a decent rock-and-roll cover band. Through tattoo parlors (temp, of course), photo booths, shirt sales, and an HP NetBook raffle, they raised over $25,000 for their cause from the participants. In addition, Novell threw in a donation for $10,000 at the end.
  • Tuesday was vendor night. In previous years, this has been a total geek-frenzy best avoided by the sane, with 5000+ attendees fighting tooth-and-nail for the last t-shirt or the most insignificant piece of throwaway SWAG. But this year, it was a much more subdued opportunity to actually talk to the vendors about their products without having to miss any of the technical sessions during the day.
  • Wednesday was IT Tech Talk, or as it was more-often called, The Event Formerly Known As Meet The Experts. At this feature event, attendees get to speak directly to the development teams and other product engineers about individual products, both current and future. As with vendor night, this opportunity is available all week, but this event adds value because it doesn’t conflict with other training.

SWAG Report

Even a scaled-back BrainShare would not be complete without toting home a suitcase full of SWAG (Stuff We All Get). I long ago learned to pack an empty (and strong) duffle in my suitcase, so I can fill it with SWAG and check it on the way home. Fortunately, 2 bags fly free on Southwest, so that is still a legitimate (and necessary) strategy. Here is the final inventory of my SWAG (and pseudo-SWAG) haul:

True SWAG (things I didn’t buy, earn, or win):

  • 3 fleece jackets, 15 T-shirts, 2 ball caps
  • 4 thumb drives (totaling 9 gb) containing various product demos and evals, 3 mini-mice, 2 USB VOIP handsets with integrated sound cards
  • Over a dozen pens, several hand-squeezy things, and various and sundry other things to clutter my desk
  • Over an inch of vendor collateral materials and demo CDs

Pseudo-SWAG (things I earned or won):

  • Nikon Coolpix 10mp camera kit (with 2gb memory card)
  • ZCM v10 Self-Study kit (included with registration)

In addition, I had to find room for the following Non-SWAG items: 8 additional T-shirts (on sale or fund-raisers for BACA), 4 technical books (all half-price), 1 windbreaker and 1 long-sleeve shirt (both half-price).


I went to Salt Lake City this year wondering if this would be the final BrainShare. After all, they had canceled last year, this year was an untested new format, and just to make it even more iffy, Novell had recently received (and rejected) an unsolicited buy-out offer from their majority shareholder, Elliott Associates.

I came home with renewed confidence in both the quality, vision, and future of Novell and their products, and I am now looking forward to BrainShare 2011.

Well done, Novell – kudos to John Dragoon and Mike Morgan and the rest of the BrainShare staff, as well as the development teams who are putting together such great products.

SPOT Tracker: Why you should have one

December 15, 2009

Everybody who is involved in a high-risk activity should have a SPOT Satellite Tracker. In this context, how do I define high-risk activity? Any or all of the following criteria:

1) You are in an environment where it’s not exactly clear where you might be if you get into trouble. (Mountain climbers, back-country hikers and snowmobilers, yes; bungee jumpers, no.)

2) You are moving at a relatively high rate of speed and might end up out of sight of passers by.  (Motorcycle rallyists, take note.)

3) Your route might vary as the day(s) goes on. (Again, this is for you, motorcycle rallyists.)

4) You have passengers on-board who didn’t necessarily sign up for the ride and might not be as well-equipped as you to fend for themselves. (This is for my dog friends.)

5) You have loved ones at home who might be interested in your progress, no matter what adventure you are on. (If you don’t fit into this category, I’m sorry for you.)

My friend, Ellen Clary recently posted a blog entry regarding what role electronic devices might or might not have played in the current Mt. Hood rescue effort involving experienced climbers who have gone missing.

As I read this blog entry, I found myself surprisingly passionate in my response. Here is a transcript of the subsequent Facebook ‘conversation’:

“Ellen – I agree with you about the limited efficacy of MLUs. However, there is a much more effective solution that is designed for exactly this scenario – SPOT ( As you may have seen on previous posts of mine, we bought one for Rich’s motorcycle rallies and other adventures. It isn’t cheap ($150 + $200/yr for full service, including tracking and search-and-rescue coverage), but for this type of activity I not only think it’s essential, it should be mandated. If nothing else, it gives the concerned loved ones back home some well-deserved peace of mind.”

Ellen’s response:

“I’ve seen you mention it but hadn’t really understood it very well. That is intriguing as I often will go off by myself and the locators are silly. But I only go to places with lots of people around (having people around is not really a bad thing at all in my book.) I’ll check out the Spot locator but it’s not really affordable yet. You must have the tracker service as the basic lists as 99/year which is vaguely tempting. Though what I do is go with a guide service to place I don’t know. This brings up the also huge debate about those who press the rescue me button for the silliest of reasons.”


“Yep. The basic service would have sufficed if either (a) they were able to press the 911 button when things went bad, or (b) they had bothered to press the OK button at regular intervals during their trek. But IMHO, the Tracker service is essential if you are involved in a high risk activity during which you are too busy to press the OK button at regular intervals. If these three climbers had had that service, the searchers would have known exactly where they were when they stopped making progress. Somehow, I find it hard to believe that wouldn’t have been worth $200/year to their loved ones right about now.”

“I’m passionate about this issue because several years ago, Rich and I were intimately involved with a search-and-rescue effort for a motorcyclist who went missing during a rally – a road rally, not a desert rally. Rich was one of many searchers and I was the computer ‘base camp’. It took us 10 days and roughly $10,000 of donated money to find his body (he died instantly), which was about 30 feet over an embankment on a state highway. If he had had a SPOT, we would have found him in hours, not days. Many rallymasters are now requiring that participants use the SPOT. ”

“And yes, there are two ongoing debates: (1) the goobers who use it because they ran out of Power Bars, and (2) the paranoids who think that the government will use the data to prove they were speeding/exhausted/liable/etc. ”

“Rich and I weighed the pros/cons and almost instantly chose the obvious. Interestingly, it has reduced his stress as much as mine, because he no longer feels the pressure to check in during rallies or rides because he knows that I can monitor his progress.”

I stand by my original statement: if you meet any of the above criteria, you owe it to yourself and/or your loved ones and/or the taxpayers who support the search-and-rescue organizations to buy a SPOT and sign up for at least the basic service, and preferably the tracking service.