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The Usenix LISA conference is no more. After 35 years, I have a lot of good (and some not good) memories of the conference. It was a big part of my career and I'm sad to see it go. However I'm proud of what LISA accomplished.

I wrote my personal reflections on the conference in a new article published on the Usenix website. Warning: this article includes some over-sharing.

Read it here: LISA made LISA obsolete (That's a compliment!)

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in HistoryLISAUsenix

"Login", the Usenix Newsletter, has an excellent article about how Google manages oncall. Authors Andrea Spadaccini and Kavita Guliani did an excellent job of providing an overview of how Google seeks to balance oncall time with non-oncall time so that engineers have time for actual engineering.

While most of the article deals with how to prevent operations people from getting overloaded, they also raise the issue that operations underload is dangerous too. SREs get out of practice if they don't get paged enough. They describe games and simulations that SRE teams do to stay in practice.

The article is available for free to Usenix members and newsletter subscribers, or for a nominal charge to everyone else.

Being an On-Call Engineer: A Google SRE Perspective, Andrea Spadaccini and Kavita Guliani

(Side note: the article cites the Oncall chapter of TPOCSA for our analysis of various oncall rotation schemes. Read it for free on SBO.)

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Usenix

Update Nov 10, 2015: The first 10 people to arrive at the book signing will get a free copy of The Practice of Cloud System Administration! See you there!

I hadn't planned on doing a book signing at LISA this year but a number of people have asked, so I've set one up. You'll have to bring your own copy as I won't have copies to sell or give away.

  • What: Book signing with Tom Limoncelli
  • Where: The Atrium
  • When: Friday, Nov 13 at 1pm - 1:30pm

What about e-books?

I have stickers that I will autograph. Where you stick it is up to you.

Will you be selling or giving away books?

Sadly not this year. That said, feel free to bring books by other authors. I'll sign anything.

Your books are too heavy to bring in my luggage.

That's not really a question, but here is a list of my books sorted lightest first:

Sorry to bother you. Would you sign my book?

Yes! No need to apologize. I love signing books. It doesn't even have to be at the book signing. Stop me on line, in the hallway, or wherever. Authors don't get paid a lot but hearing from fans is worth more than you can imagine.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Usenix

The 2015 USENIX Container Management Summit (UCMS '15) will take place November 9, 2015, during LISA15 in Washington, D.C.

Important Dates

  • Submissions due: September 5, 2015, 11:59 p.m. PDT
  • Notification to participants: September 19, 2015
  • Program announced: Late September 2015

(quoting the press release):

UCMS '15 is looking for relevant and engaging speakers and workshop facilitators for our event on November 9, 2015, in Washington, D.C. UCMS brings together people from all areas of containerization--system administrators, developers, managers, and others--to identify and help the community learn how to effectively use containers.

Submissions Proposals may be 45- or 90-minute formal presentations, panel discussions, or open workshops.

This will be a one-day summit. Speakers should be prepared for interactive sessions with the audience. Workshop facilitators should be ready to challenge the status quo and provide real-world examples and strategies to help attendees walk away with tools and ideas to improve their professional lives. Presentations should stimulate healthy discussion among the summit participants.

Submissions in the form of a brief proposal are welcome though September 5, 2015. Please submit your proposal via email to [email protected]. You can also reach the chairs via that email address with any questions or comments. Presentation details will be communicated to the presenters of accepted talks and workshops by September 19, 2015. Speakers will receive a discount for the conference admission. If you have special circumstances, please contact the USENIX office at [email protected].

Click for more info.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in LISAUsenix

Hey all you devops, CI/CD/CD people! Hey all you packagers, launchers, and shippers. Hey all your containers mavins and site reliability engineers!

Submissions due: September 4, 2015 - 11:59 pm

(quoting the press release):

At the third USENIX Release Engineering Summit (URES '15), members of the release engineering community will come together to advance the state of release engineering, discuss its problems and solutions, and provide a forum for communication for members of this quickly growing field. We are excited that this year LISA attendees will be able to drop in on talks so we expect a large audience.

URES '15 is looking for relevant and engaging speakers for our event on November 13, 2015, in Washington, D.C. URES brings together people from all areas of release engineering--release engineers, developers, managers, site reliability engineers and others--to identify and help propose solutions for the most difficult problems in release engineering today.

Click for more info.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in LISAUsenix

My talk and 2 tutorial proposals have been accepted at Usenix LISA LISA Conference!

  • Talk:
    • Transactional system administration is killing us and must be stopped
  • Tutorials:
    • How To Not Get Paged: Managing Oncall to Reduce Outages
    • Introduction to Time Management for busy Devs and Ops

The schedule isn't up yet at but Usenix is encouraging speakers to post to social media early this year.

See you in Washington DC Nov 8-13, 2015!

P.S. You can follow LISA on various social networks:

Update: 2015-06-16 I changed the title to "some of my proposals" instead of "my proposals". To be clear, I had many rejections this year, I just don't blog about those. That said, I think LISA is a better conference when it increases its speaker diversity and you can't do that if the same few people give a lot of talks.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in LISAUsenix

I received an interesting email recently:

Did the submissions process for LISA change in recent years? I recall going to submit a talk a couple years ago and being really put off by the requirements for talks to be accompanied by a long paper, and be completely original and not previously presented elsewhere. Now it seems more in line with other industry conferences.

Yes, LISA is very different than it was years ago. If you haven't attended LISA in a while, you may not realize how different it is!

The conference used to be focused on papers with a few select "invited talks". A few years ago, the conference changed its focus to be great talks. LISA still accepts "original research" papers, but they're just one track in a much larger conference and have a separate review process. In fact, the conference now publishes both a Call for Participation and a separate Call for Research Papers and Posters.

If LISA is now "talk-centric", what kind of talks does it look for? Quoting from the Call for Participation, "We invite industry leaders to propose topics that demonstrate the present and future state of IT operations. [Talks should] inspire and motivate attendees to take actions that will positively impact their business operations." LISA looks for a diverse mix of speakers, not just gender diversity, but newcomers and experienced speakers alike. We have special help for first time speakers, including assistant with rehearsals and other forms of mentoring.

What about the papers that LISA does publish? The papers have different criteria than talks. They should "describe new techniques, tools, theories, and inventions, and present case histories that extend our understanding of system and network administration." Starting in 2014, the papers have been evaluated by a separate sub-committee of people with academic and research backgrounds. This has had an interesting side-effect: the overall quality of the papers has improved and become more research/forward-looking.

Because LISA mixes industry talks and research papers, attendees get to hear about new ideas along before they become mainstream. Researchers benefit by having the opportunity to network and get feedback from actual practitioners of system administration. This gives LISA a special something you don't find anywhere else.

Another thing that makes LISA better is the "open access" policy. Posters, papers, and presentations are available online at no charge. This gives your work wider visibility, opening up the potential to have greater impact on our industry. Not all conferences do this, not even all non-profit conferences do this.

Does that make you more interested in submitting a proposal?

We hope it does!

All proposal submissions are due by April 17, 2015.

  • Tom Limoncelli and Matt Simmons
  • (volunteer content-recruiters for LISA '15)

P.S. LISA has a new mission statement: LISA is the premier conference for IT operations, where systems engineers, operations professionals, and academic researchers share real-world knowledge about designing, building, and maintaining the critical systems of our interconnected world.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in LISAUsenix

Tom will be teaching tutorials and giving other presentations at Usenix LISA in Seattle Washington, Nov 9-14, 2014.


  • Work Like a Team: Best Practices for Team Coordination and Collaborations So You Aren't Acting Like a Group of Individuals (S5)
  • Evil Genius 101: Subversive Ways to Promote DevOps and Other Big Changes (M7)
  • How To Not Get Paged: Managing Oncall to Reduce Outages (T8)


Book Signing:

  • TBA (still being worked out)

We're really excited about LISA this year. It is full of all new material and speakers. I'm really psyched and can't wait to attend!

I'm teaching a tutorial at Usenix LISA called "Evil Genius 101: Subversive Ways to Promote DevOps and Other Big Changes".

Whether you are trying to bring "devops culture" to your workplace, or just get approval to purchase a new machine, convincing and influencing people is a big part of a system administrator's time.

For the last few years I've been teaching this class called "Evil Genius 101" where I reveal my tricks for understanding people and swaying their opinion. None of these are actually evil, nor do I teach negotiating techniques. I simply list 3-4 techniques I've found successful for each of these situations: talking to executives, talking to managers, talking to coworkers, and talking to users.

Seating is limited. Register now!

Evil Genius 101: Subversive Ways to Promote DevOps and Other Big Changes

Who should attend:

Sysadmins and managers looking to influence the technology and culture of your organization.


Monday, 10-Nov, 1:30pm-5pm at Usenix LISA


You want to innovate: deploy new technologies such as configuration management, kanban, a wiki, or standardized configurations. Your coworkers don't want change: they like the way things are. Therefore, they consider you evil. However you aren't evil, you just want to make things better. Learn how to talk your team, managers and executives into adopting DevOps techniques and culture.

Take back to work:

  • Help your coworkers understand and agree with your awesome ideas
  • Convince your manager about anything. Really.
  • Get others to trust you so they are more easily convinced
  • Deciding which projects to do when you have more projects than time
  • Turn the most stubborn user into your biggest fan
  • Make decisions based on data and evidence

Topics include:

  • DevOps "value mapping" exercise: Understand how your work relates to business needs.
  • So much to do! What should you do first?
  • How to sell ideas to executives, management, co-workers, and users.
  • Simple ways to display data to get your point across better.

Register today for Usenix LISA 2014!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Usenix

Step 1: turn off your pager. Step 2: disable the monitoring system. Or.... you can run oncall using modern methodologies that constantly improve the reliability of your system.

I'm teaching a tutorial at Usenix LISA called "How To Not Get Paged: Managing Oncall to Reduce Outages".

I'm excited about this class because I'm going to explain a lot of the things I learned at Google about how to turn oncall from a PITA to a productive use of time that improves the reliability of the systems you run. Most of the material is from our new book, The Practice of Cloud System Administration, but the Q&A always leads me to say things I couldn't put in print.

Seating is limited. Register now!

How To Not Get Paged: Managing Oncall to Reduce Outages

Who should attend:

Anyone with an oncall responsibility (or their manager).


Tuesday, 11-Nov, 1:30pm-5pm at Usenix LISA


People think of "oncall" as responding to a pager that beeps because of an outage. In this class you will learn how to use oncall as a vehicle to improve system reliability so that you get paged less often.

Take back to work:

  • How to monitor more accurately so you get paged less
  • How to design an oncall schedule so that it is more fair and less stressful
  • How to assure preventative work and long-term solutions get done between oncall shifts
  • How to conduct "Fire Drills" and "Game Day Exercises" to create antifragile systems
  • How to write a good Post-mortem document that communicates better and prevents future problems

Topics include:

  • Why your monitoring strategy is broken and how to fix it
  • Building a more fair oncall schedule
  • Monitoring to detect outages vs. monitoring to improve reliability
  • Alert review strategies
  • Conducting "Fire Drills" and "Game Day Exercises"
  • "Blameless Post-mortem documents"

Register today for Usenix LISA 2014!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Usenix

I'm teaching a tutorial at Usenix LISA called "Live Upgrades on Running Systems: 8 Ways to Upgrade a Running Service With Zero Downtime".

Ever notice that Google, Facebook and other website aren't down periodically for software upgrades? That's because they're upgrading software on their service while it is live. As a result, they can push new features continuously. In this tutorial I'll describe 8 techniques they use... and so can you. Oh, and here's a secret: I'll have a 9th way to upgrade software... but it requires down-time. That said, it might not require down-time that is visible to users!

I'm excited about this tutorial because it covers a lot of the unique topics we cover in The Practice of Cloud System Administration that I haven't talked about publicly before.

Seating is limited. Register now!

Live Upgrades on Running Systems: 8 Ways to Upgrade a Running Service With Zero Downtime

Who should attend:

Sysadmins that run web-based services, or services that involve many machines.


Friday, 14-Nov, 9am-10:30am at Usenix LISA


How do you upgrade your service while it is running? This class covers nine techniques from the new book by Limoncelli/Chalup/Hogan, "The Practice of Cloud System Administration"... eight of which don't require downtime. Learn best practices from Google, Facebook, and other successful companies and apply them to your environment. Techniques include: The Google "Canary" process, Facebook "Dark Launches", proportional shedding, feature toggles, Erlang live-code upgrades, and live SQL and NoSQL schema changes.

Who should attend:

Sysadmins that run web-based services, or services that involve many machines.

Take back to work:

  • 8 ways to upgrade live systems without downtime
  • Techniques for cautious upgrades you may not have thought of
  • How to change SQL schemas without requiring downtime
  • Continuous Integration as a stepping stone to Continuous Deployment

Topics include:

  • Upgrade while the system is down (not viable for live upgrades)
  • Rolling upgrades
  • Google's "canary" upgrade system
  • Proportional Shedding
  • Feature Toggles
  • Facebook's Dark Launch system
  • Upgrades that involve SQL and NoSQL schema changes.
  • Languages that support live code upgrades
  • Continuous Deployment

Register today for Usenix LISA 2014!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Usenix

I'm teaching a tutorial at Usenix LISA called "Work Like a Team: Best Practices for Team Coordination and Collaborations So You Aren't Acting Like a Group of Individuals".

I'm excited about this class because I'm going to demo a lot of the Google Apps tricks I've accumulated over the years, and combine them with stories about successes (and failures) related to bringing teams together to work on projects. I also get to explain a lot of DevOps culture in ways that make sense to non-DevOps shops (mostly stuff I've been advocating for since before "devops" was a thing). A lot of the material will overlap with our new book, The Practice of Cloud System Administration.

Seating is limited. Register now!

Work Like a Team: Best Practices for Team Coordination and Collaborations So You Aren't Acting Like a Group of Individuals

Who should attend:

System administrators and managers that work on a team of 3 or more.


Sunday, 9-Nov, 9am-12:30pm at Usenix LISA


System Administration is a team sport. How can we better collaborate and work as a team? Techniques will include many uses of Google Docs, wikis and other shared document systems, as well as strategies and methods that create a culture of cooperation.

Take back to work:

  • Behavior that builds team cohesion
  • 3 uses of Google docs you had not previously considered
  • How to organize team projects to improve teamwork
  • Track projects using Kanban boards.
  • How to divide big projects among team members
  • Collaborating via the "Tom Sawyer Fence Painting" technique
  • How to criticize the work of teammates constructively
  • How to get agreement on big plans

Topics include:

  • Meetings: How to make them more effective, shorter, and more democratic
  • How to create accountability, stop re-visiting past decisions, improve involvement
  • Strategy for leaving "fire-fighting" mode, be more "project focused".
  • Project Work: Using "design docs" to get consensus on big and small designs before they are committed to code.
  • Service Docs: How to document services so any team member can cover for any other.
  • Kanban: How to manage work that needs to be done.
  • Chatroom effectiveness: How to make everyone feel included, not lose important decisions.
  • Playbooks: How to get consistent results across the team, train new-hires, make delegation easier.
  • Send more effective email: How to write email that gets read.

Register today for Usenix LISA 2014!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Usenix

Apply now for a grant to attend LISA14. Submissions are due by Monday, October 13.

Are you a student? There are grants available for the general conference and the tutorial program.

Are you a woman? As part of its ongoing commitment to encourage women to excel in this field, Usenix is pleased to announce the return of the Google Grants for Women to support female computer scientists interested in attending the LISA14 conference. All female computer scientists from academia or industry are encouraged to apply.

Applications are due by October 13.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Usenix

Tom will be teaching 2 tutorials, doing a book signing, and including the all-new Evil Genius 101 half-day class.

  Tuesday AM: Half-day tutorial: Advanced Time Management: Team Efficiency Updated!
  Tuesday PM: Half-day tutorial: Evil Genius 101 New!
  Thursday, 1-1:30PM: Book Signing in Exhibit Hall C
  Thursday, 2-3:30PM: "Time Management Office Hours" (one-on-one time management counseling) New!
  Friday, 9-10:30AM: Guru Session "Time Management for Sysadmins" (Harding Room)

Considering all the security issues raised this year, isn't it time you built a private cloud?

Build a Cloud Day will be dedicated to teaching users how to build and manage a cloud computing environment using free and open source software. The program is designed to expose attendees to the concepts and best practices around deploying cloud computing infrastructure. Attendees should expect to learn how to deploy a cloud computing environment using CloudStack and other cloud infrastructure tools that automate server and network configuration for building highly available cloud computing environments.

Registration for Build A Cloud Day is free, but space is limited. LISA registration is not required to attend Build a Cloud Day, however Build a Cloud Day attendees receive a $75 discount on the 3-day technical session registration. Please use the discount code: LISA13CLOUD

Get more information and register at

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Usenix

If you are sad you can't attend PuppetConf 2013 this week, start planning for Puppet Camp DC. It is co-located with the Usenix LISA conference, which is Nov 6-9, 2013 in Washington D.C.

Puppet Camp DC is a community-oriented, regional gathering of Puppet users and developers. You'll have the opportunity to talk to a diverse group of Puppet users, benefit from presentations delivered by prominent community members, and share experiences and discuss potential implementations of Puppet with your peers.

Registration for Puppet Camp is free, but space is limited. To continue your "Automation" education USENIX is offering a discount to all Puppet Camp attendees. If you register for Both Puppet Camp DC and LISA you will receive a $75 discount on the 3-Day Technical Session Pass. Use Discount Code: LISA13PUPPET during your LISA registration.

To register, find out more about the event, or propose a talk, go here

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in PuppetUsenix

Topics include:

  • Helping your coworkers understand and agree to your awesome ideas
  • Convincing your manager about anything (really!)
  • Turning the most stubborn user into your biggest fan
  • Getting others to trust you so they are more easily convinced
  • Deciding which projects to do when you have more projects than time
  • Making decisions based on data and evidence
  • Driving improvements based on a methodology and planning instead of guessing and luck

The only place you can find this class is at Usenix LISA, Nov 3-8, 2013 in Washington DC. Register TODAY!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Usenix

The training this year has a lot of advanced topics that will bring a smile from anyone working in a DevOps environment. Tutorials on Jenkins, build-your-own-cloud, and a Googler will teach a class called "SRE University".

There are a lot of specific technology tutorials: IPv6, file systems, Puppet, Python and a RaspberryPi class for people that want to move it beyond being a toy.

I noticed a bunch of new security tutorials.

I'll be teaching my new class 'Evil Genius 101' which is about how to convince your coworkers to get on board with your evil plans for world (or at least network) domination.

Get ready for LISA '13 in Washington, D.C.. The 27th Large Installation System Administration Conference. November 3-8, 2013

NOTE: LISA is a lot earlier this year!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Time ManagementUsenix

2013-06-28 Update: NZ search and rescue folks haven't given up though a new search today was unsuccessful.

It is with a heavy heart that I pass on this information. There is a report that the boat Evi Nemeth was sailing on has not been heard from since June 3rd. The New Zealand Herald seems to have broken the story first.

Evi co-wrote the groundbreaking book, "UNIX System Administration Handbook". It has been used as a textbook and outside of schools by nearly every Unix/Linux sysadmin I know. It meticulously covers every popular Unix varient of its day. (In the 1990s there was a lot more variation between Unixes). Since its publication there have been many updates and even a Linux-specific version.

Evi was a mainstay at the Usenix LISA conference. Every year she would show up with a number of students who would get free admission to the conference in return for volunteering. Many of these students have gone on to be well-known sysadmins.

In 1993 she received the USENIX/LISA Lifetime Achievement Award.

When Evi retired she sold her house and began sailing around the world. She is 74. You can read more about her on the wikipedia page about her. (It's a good read. I highly recommend it).

I hope she is ok. My thoughts are with all of her family, including her past students. Let's hope New Zealand's coast guard finds her soon.

Usenix is sponsoring the first Women in Advanced Computing (WiAC) Summit to run during Federated Conferences Week in Boston. WiAC will be all day June 12th, 2012.

Carolyn Rowland and Nicole Forsgren Velasquez are co-chairs. Carolyn recently posted on G+ a request for ideas: What would make this a must-attend event? What topics should we cover in order to appeal to women of varying professions and backgrounds: researchers, to developers, sysadmins, IT managers, etc.?

Carolyn wrote "We'd like this year to be the start of a recurring Usenix event that allows people who believe we need to support women in the computing professions to come together to share ideas, meet new people and get inspired."

For more information please visit:

You can reach Carolyn and Nicole at [email protected]

I'll be teaching 3 tutorials and one "guru" session. Plus, as conference co-chair I'll be on stage many other times too.

Watch this space: