Interview with Chris St. Pierre, UCMS '13 Program Chair

UCMS '13 The 2013 USENIX Configuration Management Summit (UCMS '13) call for participation closes Friday, April 5, at 11:59p.m. PDT. In this interview, Chris St. Pierre, UCMS '13 Program Chair, answers questions about the CFP and what to expect at the event, which will take place during USENIX Federated Conferences Week, June 24–28, 2013.

Rikki: What kind of talks would you like to see submitted for UCMS '13?

Chris: I want to see big picture talks that are also pragmatic. I think the field of configuration management is uniquely suited to this sort of talk because there are so many unresolved problems. Lots of people are doing continuous integration testing, for instance, in really interesting ways, but it's not what I'd call a "solved problem." So it's very possible to give a talk on how you're doing CI, but also draw bigger conclusions about how CI should be done. The field has undergone tremendous growth in recent years, and now it's maturing, which gives us a unique opportunity to shape the way it matures.

Rikki: How do you think the 2013 event will differ from previous events?

Chris: A lot of the first UCMS, in 2010, focused on choosing and implementing a configuration management tool. I think that's largely a battle that has been won. Certainly there are people who aren't using configuration management, but it's definitely gone from something most people think they should be doing to something they are doing. The previous two summits have also had a lot of ad hoc content, but we're getting to the point where the community is big and active enough that we'll have more formal talks this year.

Rikki: What can attendees expect to get out of attending UCMS '13?

Chris: Based on the proposals we've already got, we're going to have a great mix of pragmatic approaches that attendees can implement immediately at their jobs, and really smart think pieces that will hopefully lead attendees to start using their existing tools in different ways, or, better yet, to get involved with the development and direction of their tools. Configuration management has become such a critical service so quickly that our target audience is really very broad — from the developers who we hope to help craft better tools, to the experts building massive configuration management deployments, to the single sysadmins struggling to keep up with everything.

Rikki: What are the 'hot topics' in configuration management systems right now?

Chris: There are so many! Testing is a huge one — everyone wants to do continuous integration testing and have confidence in their configurations. Config management lets you configure a thousand machines at once, but it also lets you break a thousand machines at once, so reducing the risk is on everyone's mind. The growth of the field has also raised lots of new problems: How do you handle configuration management in a devops environment with 100 people making changes? How do you orchestrate the deployment of applications with increasingly complex dependency trees?

Another topic that I think will become very pressing over the next year will be meta-management. In larger and more complex organizations with more tiers of users, we're going to need to find ways to manage our configuration management systems. I think people are going start bringing services like PuppetForge in-house to start decentralizing configuration management while still providing central oversight. We're getting more abstract and less monolithic in our configuration management design, and helping people cope with that change is going to be a big deal.

Rikki: Thanks for the interview, Chris!

To learn more about events at Federated Conferences Week 2013, visit:

  • USENIX ATC '13: 2013 USENIX Annual Technical Conference, June 26–28, 2013

  • ICAC '13: 10th International Conference on Autonomic Computing, June 25–26, 2013

  • HotPar '13: 5th USENIX Workshop on Hot Topics in Parallelism, June 24–25, 2013

  • UCMS '13: 2013 USENIX Configuration Management Summit, June 24, 2013

  • Feedback '13: 8th International Workshop on Feedback Computing, June 25, 2013

  • HotCloud '13: 5th USENIX Workshop on Hot Topics in Cloud Computing, June 25–26, 2013

  • WiAC '13: 2013 USENIX Women in Advanced Computing Summit, June 26–27, 2013

  • HotStorage '13: 5th USENIX Workshop on Hot Topics in Storage and File Systems, June 27–28, 2013

  • HotSWUp '13: 5th Workshop on Hot Topics in Software Upgrades, June 28, 2013

  • ESOS '13: 2013 Workshop on Embedded Self-Organizing Systems, June 25, 2013