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Get to Know SpreeConf DC Speaker: John Feminella

Posted on May 02, 2013 by Lynne Brehmer

Last Thursday we introduced you to SpreeConf speaker, Denis Ivanov who will be talking about how to perfect your e-commerce front end at SpreeConf DC May 20th – 21st in Washington, DC. Today we’d like to introduce you to John Feminella. John is the Co-founder at UpHex and will be speaking at SpreeConf about better, faster, smarter cloud deployments with Docker.

John Feminella

John Feminella

Co-founder at UpHex
John is an avid technologist, occasional public speaker, and frequent instigator of assorted shenanigans. John recently co-founded UpHex, a startup providing predictive analytics and automated insights for e-commerce businesses. When he’s not knee-deep in solving challenging technology problems, he stays active in the local community, guest-lectures at the University of Virginia, and mentors budding entrepreneurs at HackCville.

Better, Faster, Smarter Cloud Deployments with Docker

When you deploy a modern web application to a cloud environment, you usually provide some kind of manifest that indicates what its application dependencies are — for example, in a Ruby on Rails app, you’d provide a Gemfile. But what if you have environment or configuration dependencies, like needing an SSL certificate or a reverse DNS entry? Then you need another manifest for a configuration management system, such as Chef or Puppet.

Pretty soon, it starts getting cumbersome to put all that together. What if there was a better way to wrap those two things into one neat package that made deployment easier? Enter Docker; although it’s still very much in beta, it’s worth taking a look now, because it’s one of the most interesting recent developments in cloud computing.

In his SpreeConf talk, John will discuss how Docker works, the vast array of potential applications it has, and walk through some example deployments. By the end, you’ll know enough to decide if Docker has a place in your own workflow, and hopefully be excited enough to start trying it out.

Getting to Know John

We asked John to give us his thoughts on the latest happenings in the Ruby on Rails space and some of the interesting projects he’s working on right now.

What trends are most exciting to you right now?

There are so many interesting trends that it’s hard to pick, so I hope you’ll forgive me for picking two.

First, the rise of “bring your own cloud” is fascinating because it brings things full circle relative to ten years ago, when the only “cloud” offering that was widely available was virtual private servers. Then virtual machines became more popular, as computing resources got denser. AWS promised automatic redundancy and easy scalability. But people didn’t like the devops work required to maintain their AWS instances, so Heroku came along.

Now, people have realized that Heroku and friends are just specialized cases of a larger, more interesting problem: the ability to completely isolate your web application and its dependencies from your operating system. What if you could essentially package up all your cloud instances like that, so that you could run them anywhere, on almost any cloud provider?

That’s part of what Docker lets us do, which is why I’m excited to talk about it at SpreeConf. It brings us back full circle to the flexibility and commoditization of the VPS days, where you’re just paying for bits, bandwidth, and CPU. But it gives us all the power and flexibility of the modern configuration management toolset. My prediction is that most web development will look like Docker instances by 2015 or so.

Second, I’m excited that the prediction I made two years ago, betting that Facebook would tumble from its top spot as part of a broader trend away from spending time on social networks and a growing awareness of privacy concerns, seems to be coming true. But with SOPA defeated and CISPA not quite dead as of this writing, there’s still a lot to worry about in the online world, and we owe it to ourselves to pay attention more closely than ever before.

Any interesting projects you are working on that others might be interested in?

I quit my job to work on UpHex, which I co-founded with a really smart colleague. We’re building an analytics health-monitoring service, akin to a New Relic for your data streams. Most analytics services do a poor job on two fronts, and we want to fix both of them.

First, they often don’t tell you when something interesting is happening. You have to go visit them to find out what’s happening. If they do provide alerts, you have to set up clumsy, coarse thresholds that don’t reflect the dynamic nature of an online business, so you get lots of false positives (or even worse, false negatives!). This is 2013; why are people settling for such antiquated ways of watching their business?

Second, if they have a dashboard, it’s usually a morass of confusing chartjunk that’s hard to interpret, even for experts. Is a downward blip in some metric alarming? Should you care about it? Is there anything you can do about it, and if so, what? Is this related to similar blips on your other metrics? All in all, it’s hard to get a good picture of where things stand by looking at a collection of graphs, so why aren’t we trying to make this easier to understand for everyone?

UpHex is going to solve these problems. We’re just starting out, but our research so far (we’ve talked to over 100 companies!) has yielded enough excited customers to convince us that this is a good idea. If you’re interested, you can sign up to stay abreast of things by going to the UpHex website. If you’re a business that sells things online, and if you can spare 15 minutes, we’d love to talk to you; drop us a line at hello@uphex.com.

What are you most looking forward to at SpreeConf this year?

I’m most excited to see how people use established technologies like Spree in new and interesting ways to help make e-commerce a better, smoother experience for everyone.

What do you hope SpreeConf attendees remember about your talk when they get home?

I hope the first thing they do after my talk is download Docker and start playing with it. However interesting my talk might be to people, it would never hold a candle to the experience of using Docker yourself.

Do you have any interesting picks – blogs, technology, books, new companies to follow?

The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood by James Gleick

Tumblr: Pictures of People Scanning QR Codes

Everything is Amazing, and No One Is Happy by Louis CK

Come meet John and hear his talk about about better, faster, smarter cloud deployments with Docker at SpreeConf DC, May 20th – 21st. get your ticket now. Less than 3 weeks to go!