Oct 12, 2011

OpenStack has wings


I was at the OpenStack Essex Design Summit in Boston last week from Oct. 13-15 (we’re making a commitment to OpenStack here at Voxel) –  and here are some of my adventures and lessons learned.

OpenStack, the open source cloud services software suite, has wind beneath its wings.  Even though I only focused on one specific project last week, if the other projects have half as much momentum, smarts and good natured collaboration, then all the projects are sure to succeed, and OpenStack could possibly have the same effect that the Apache web server had on Internet infrastructure.  I remember the earlier days of the ‘Net, when I’d check Netcraft.com to find out which web server was leading the “most sites hosted” competition.  I was working for Netscape at the time, and we were always hungry to steal rank from Microsoft.  Apache was too formidable an opponent, so we resigned ourselves to taking marketshare from the other “enterprise” quality web servers.  Although we wanted to (and tried to) penetrate the service provider market, our features were too enterprise-y and not service provider-y enough.  Plus, who can compete with free and open source?

I see the same sort of (mostly) friendly competition unfolding on the cloud and devops mailing lists today.  What types of companies will choose which type of cloud service software?  Smart shops look carefully at feature set, operational complexity and overall scalability goals.  They also look closely at the other organizations committing themselves to the project – the quality of the developers and the tone on the mailing lists and IRC.  So far, OpenStack has not disappointed.

I have, admittedly, a somewhat jaded view.  I’m focusing on OpenStack’s most successful development project – the Object Storage System called “Swift.”  But throughout all the OpenStack projects I’ve seen, even those projects where the quality has been a bit lacking, it’s not for lack of trying.  Swift, and all these projects, are moving targets – the desire for greater and greater scalability sometimes causes dramatic shifts in design.  But the organization, layout and quality of the products and docs that exist (and the doc management system chosen) are usable and nimble.  At the Summit last week, the Swift developers were informative and open about their product and their plans.  They were VERY helpful and very receptive (and serious) about taking other developer and implementer suggestions into account.

I’ve never been to an ApacheCon, but it’s the only group I can think of right now that has the same diversity of products and unity of cause. The Apache project and foundation are very successful, and I hope that the OpenStack Foundation takes a long hard look at how Apache has done things, and takes both their successes and failures to heart, as lessons learned not through trial and error but from the mouth of wisdom.

In summary, some talks at the Summit were great, some talks were highly unstructured and some of the leaders did not effectively keep the conversation on track.  But this happens at every conference, and on (most) every mailing list.  The possibility of diverting from a prescribed course is more often than not the price one pays for the huge gift of inclusion.  If you try to exclude people from the conversation, you often times get dull and routine outcomes. The trick is good leadership. To allow all voices to speak but still see progress towards a goal. And overall, I think there’s good leadership at OpenStack.

I’m now very happily preparing to go to market with OpenStack Swift, buttressed by the humble strength of leadership I saw in the OpenStack community leaders and core development team. I feel confident that my serious approach to the product will be matched with equal serious consideration of my suggestions and cries for help when stuff goes wrong – as it invariably does.

I look forward to your files!

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