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October 07 2011

OpenStack Foundation requires further definition

For outsiders, the major news of interest from this week's OpenStack conference in Boston was the announcement of an OpenStack Foundation. I attended the conference yesterday where the official announcement was made, and tried to find out more about the move. But this will be a short posting because there's not much to say. The thinness of detail about the Foundation is probably a good sign, because it means that Rackspace and its partners are seeking input from the community about important parameters.

OpenStack is going to be the universal cloud platform of the future. This is assured by the huge backing and scads of funding from major companies, both potential users and vendors. (Dell and HP had big presences at the show.) Even if the leadership flubs a few things, the backers will pick them up, dust them off, and propel them on their way forward.

But the leadership has made some flubs--just the garden-variety types made by other leaders of other open source projects that are not so fortunate (or unfortunate) to be under such a strong spotlight. Most of the attendees expressed the view that the project, barely a year old, just needs to mature a bit and get through its awkward adolescent phase.

The whole premise of OpenStack is freedom from vendor lock-in. So Rackspace knew its stewardship had to come to an end. One keynoter today suggested that OpenStack invite seasoned leaders from other famous foundations taking the helm of free software projects--Apache, Mozilla, Linux, GNOME--to join its board and give it sage advice. But OpenStack is in a unique position. These other projects had a few years to achieve code stability and gather a robust community before becoming the intense objects of desire among major corporations who, although they undoubtedly benefited the projects, brought competing agendas. OpenStack got the corporate attention first.

It's also making a pilgrimage into a land dominated by giants such as Amazon.com, VMware, and Microsoft. Interestingly, the people at this conference expressed less concern about the competition presented by those companies than the ambiguous love expressed by companies with complicated relationships to OpenStack, notably Red Hat.

Will the OpenStack Foundation control the code or just manage the business side of the project? How will it attract developers and build community? What role do governments play, given that cloud computing raises substantial regulatory issues? I heard lots of questions like these, all apparently to be decided in the months to come. As one attendee said at the governance forum, "Let's not talk here about details, but about how we're going to talk about details."

And a colleague said to me afterward, "It's exciting to be in at the start of something big." I agree, but other than saying it's big, we don't know much about it.

August 08 2011

Open minds and open source community

The last week of July was OSCON. Now that I’ve had a week off to think about all the amazing conversations I overheard and took part in, I want to share some of the ideas that I was hearing.

I took Steve Yegge’s call to “work on important things” to heart in last week in Portland. I sought out hard conversations with the collection of open source users, developers and luminaries that attended OSCON. I started most of my hallway track sessions asking and thinking very broadly about our tag line, "from disruption to default."

Growing the community

If open source is now the default, if the audience is now much broader, then are we talking enough about the primary audience for open source tools, projects and products? Now our constituency is not all developer peers. We must challenge the idea that if someone really wants to use a piece of software, he or she will be willing to slog through half-written documentation, the actual code base and an unkind user interface.

Gabe Zichermann made a fantastic point in his keynote about the introduction of new players to a game: In the first screens of a game, there is no way to do the wrong thing. In fact, there is only one thing to do, which is the first step in learning how to interface with that product. Likewise, lowering the barrier to entry is paramount to continuing to promote open source as a culture and a global good.

There was a time in open source when, if you used a product, you also were a contributor to the code. Now, we are experiencing a redefinition of contributor and community member. Users who make good bug reports are fantastic contributors, though they may not code. Designers who rework the user experience for broader appeal are also important contributors. An entire culture based on finding people to relate to as outcasts is now learning to deal with popularity. The label "geek" is no longer a pejorative, but instead is becoming a badge of honor.

These adolescent growing pains are causing tension within the greater open source community. Change is happening: ‘Open’ has gone from elitist anti-crowd to global buzzword, experiencing dramatic growth and shifts in business models. Hackers aren’t doing this simply for love but often looking for corporate sponsorship. There are more subtle changes, too, like the redefinition of ‘community’ to include not only developers but also end users, corporate sponsors, people of color and women, designers and UX engineers.

Boy, it's hard to be cool. The early projects which had success in broadening the reach of a project or in securing corporate sponsorship, funding or a business model were decried as sellouts. Think RedHat, circa 2002. Who would ever pay for Linux support?

In more recent times, Jono Bacon has navigated that line well. He is not only the community face of Ubuntu and Canonical, but an actual rock star. He gave a keynote at OSCON last week about the future of communities. Then, in an incredibly authentic blog post, Jono reflected on his presentation and noted what he learned. Transparency and openness to alternate perspectives are what allow him to rally an eclectic community of developers, users, designers, and the curious who in turn promote and host events to add a three dimensional component for the community around Ubuntu.

Android Open, being held October 9-11 in San Francisco, is a big-tent meeting ground for app and game developers, carriers, chip manufacturers, content creators, OEMs, researchers, entrepreneurs, VCs, and business leaders.

Save 20% on registration with the code AN11RAD

Using data and open source better

In some quiet time at OSCON, Dave Eaves and Edd Dumbill had a fantastic conversation about making use of data to better understand the ebb and flow of an open source community’s engagement.

Dave has been working with Mozilla to seek out and understand what is quantitatively happening in the community to inform constant improvement. Ask “why are bugs in this section of the code taking twice as long to be reviewed?” Ask “who has contributed consistently over the last 18 months, but not in the last 30 days?” Take the information, both qualitative and quantitative, and then use it to continue to improve our communities.

In another example, when OpenStack was announced on the OSCON keynote stage last year, it gave rise to conversations with the thesis that there are "real open source" projects (and, presumably, "faux open source" projects). Under scrutiny were corporate sponsorships and business models which have funded a proliferation of newer open source projects like Ubuntu or Hadoop. Many argue that companies still don't know how to take a product and "open source it."

The fact that “open source” is a verb suggests we have made it, but the community's limited engagement with OpenStack means there's still a long way to go. At Nebula’s launch keynote, Chris Kemp asked who had worked with OpenStack; the response was anemic. There is hope. OpenStack has increased from a dozen contributors (primarily funded by Rackspace) to more than 250 in the current release and is seeking to engage more independent developers as well. (There are currently 1200 developers in the development tree.)

What does open mean?

Some arguments for open source are about transparency or safety. The more eyes see code, the more refined it becomes, and the more security exploits are found before impacting an end user. In her keynote at OSCON, Karen Sandler answered how open source will benefit consumers of medical devices. A corporate sponsor, however will be considering the talent pool of theoretically unlimited volunteer workers. The dogmatic among us want "free-libre" for the independence from corporate overlords.

I believe open is a mindset: accepting and respecting the views of others and encouraging more perspectives in our communities. Not every company will have goals or methods that align with the open source philosophy. There are many companies which will. The first step to hacking is to frame the problem and understand the biases. We have the opportunity here to share experience and find where we can work together. Instead of conversations about if a corporate sponsored project is really open, why not welcome the corporate sponsors to the table and work to find where our interests align. Nurture those ideas, then start discussing the harder edge cases.

We lack common motivations for a set of complicated goals loosely collected and anointed “open source." When we address this underlying problem, the other symptoms we’ve been treating will ease. There is a culture behind the idea of open source. To move that vision forward, there will have to be more public successes.

Jim Zemlin suggested in his keynote that we need to brand the vision behind open source, much like "Made in the USA" or "Fair Trade." This means working with and embracing our old rivals and finding where our interests align. In the least marketing-y keynote I've ever seen from Microsoft, Gianugo Rabellino spoke of a place for both open and closed source products and advocates embracing their interoperability. While I don't see Microsoft being a corporate sponsor for Linux, they are kernel contributors. Alignment of interests give rise to opportunities where everyone benefits. We will see more in the future.

Have we succeeded in disrupting? Yes. Is open source the default? In some places. How do we do it again? We embrace the change we birthed and work to evolve and grow this adolescent into a robust, healthy and curious philosophy.

April 13 2011

What VMware's Cloud Foundry announcement is about

I chatted today about VMware's Cloud Foundry with Roger Bodamer, the EVP of products and technology at 10Gen. 10Gen's MongoDB is one of three back-ends (along with MySQL and Redis) supported from the start by Cloud Foundry.

If I understand Cloud Foundry and VMware's declared "Open PaaS" strategy, it should fill a gap in services. Suppose you are a developer who wants to loosen the bonds between your programs and the hardware they run on, for the sake of flexibility, fast ramp-up, or cost savings. Your choices are:

  • An IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) product, which hands you an emulation of bare metal where you run an appliance (which you may need to build up yourself) combining an operating system, application, and related services such as DNS, firewall, and a database.

  • You can implement IaaS on your own hardware using a virtualization solution such as VMware's products, Azure, Eucalyptus, or RPM. Alternatively, you can rent space on a service such as Amazon's EC2 or Rackspace.

  • A PaaS (Platform as a Service) product, which operates at a much higher level. A vendor such as

By now, the popular APIs for IaaS have been satisfactorily emulated so that you can move your application fairly easily from one vendor to another. Some APIs, notably OpenStack, were designed explicitly to eliminate the friction of moving an app and increase the competition in the IaaS space.

Until now, the PaaS situation was much more closed. VMware claims to do for PaaS what Eucalyptus and OpenStack want to do for IaaS. Vmware has a conventional cloud service called Cloud Foundry, but will offer the code under an open source license. Right Scale has already announced that you can use it to run a Cloud Foundry application on EC2. And a large site could run Cloud Foundry on its own hardware, just as it runs VMware.

Cloud Foundry is aggressively open middleware, offering a flexible way to administer applications with a variety of options on the top and bottom. As mentioned already, you can interact with MongoDB, MySQL, or Redis as your storage. (However, you have to use the particular API offered by each back-end; there is no common Cloud Foundry interface that can be translated to the chosen back end.) You can use Spring, Rails, or Node.js as your programming environment.

So open source Cloud Foundry may prove to be a step toward more openness in the cloud arena, as many people call for and I analyzed in a series of articles last year. VMware will, if the gamble pays off, gain more customers by hedging against lock-in and will sell its tools to those who host PaaS on their own servers. The success of the effort will depend on the robustness of the solution, ease of management, and the rate of adoption by programmers and sites.

October 22 2010

Four short links: 22 October 2010

  1. Historical Images Remapped -- Sydney's Powerhouse Museum released historical images from their collections, and a historical photo site Sepiatown geolocated and oriented them so they can be viewed side-by-side with current Google Street View images of the same place. And then contributed the refined metadata back to the museum. A great example of your users helping to improve your data.
  2. Future Internet Scenarios -- results of scenario planning by the Internet Society, some possible futures from open and competitive to anticompetitive centralised walled-gardens.
  3. OpenLibrary Bookreader -- the Internet Archive's book reader is (naturally) open source for you to reuse and improve. (via Kevin Marks on Twitter)
  4. OpenStack Austin Release -- code to compute controller and object storage released. Competition and interoperability require exactly this kind of open cloud environment.

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