I recently spoke at the OSMC (Open Source Monitoring Conference and how that went - and also how an audience full of system administrators reacted to the idea of representing their systems as a graph. This blog post will cover those two topics.
First all, the Assimilation project's appearance at the OSMC was a smashing success. I was mobbed after my talk with people wanting to learn more, and contribute to the project. Now all that has to happen is for all those interested to show up and help out.
Thomas Wildhalm summed up his reaction in this tweet:
One interesting thing about this conference - it was aimed solely at practictioners of monitoring and system management. They completely get that they always describe their systems as a graph - their mental models of systems are graphs - and the network people in the audience even more so.
This is easy to validate - ask anyone involved in system or network management to go to a whiteboard and describe some part of the systems they manage. They always draw circles and boxes and arrows. That is -they draw a graph. In all the time I've been in this business (which has been a while), this has always been the case. There are even specialized tools like Visio which are part of any network engineer's stock in trade - that is - tools to draw graphs representing system architectures.
In the conference, I followed up with "when the model your software has matches your mental model, it's much easier to understand and manage without screwing it up". They totally get that. SysAdmins live their lives getting the hulks of software that have crashed back up on their metaphorical feet. So understanding how a tool represents their data and how that matters to them is something they completely understand.
I spent about 15 years of my career in high-availability systems. During that time, when someone had made a true and royal mess of their system, it was almost always the case that some minor thing had gone wrong, and the administrator had tried to "help" the system back to health. But because their mental model of the system didn't match how the system actually was, they wound up making things worse. I'm sure most any Admin has a story or two about how they have made things worse at one time or another.
This is why they resonate so much with having a system whose mental model matches theirs - it makes these kinds of embarassments much less likely.