So long OpenStack community, see you soon

Let’s call it a “ciao” and not an “addio.”

After almost four years (un)managing the OpenStack community, I have decided to move on and join DreamHost’s team to lead the marketing efforts of the DreamCloud. The past three years and 10 months have been amazing: I’ve joined a community of about 300 upstream contributors and saw it grow under my watch to over 3,600. I knew OpenStack would become huge and influence IT as much as the Linux kernel did and I still think it’s true. I’m really proud to have done my part to make OpenStack as big as it is now.

During these years, I’ve focused on making open source community management more like a system, with proper measurement in place and onboarding programs for new contributors. I believe that open source collaboration is just a different form of engineering and as such it should be measured correctly in order to be better managed. I am particularly proud of the Activity Board, one of the most sophisticated systems to keep track of open collaboration. When I started fiddling with data from the developers’ community, there were only rudimentary examples of open source metrics published by Eclipse Foundation and Symbian Foundation. With the help of researchers from University of Madrid, we built a comprehensive dashboard for weekly tracking of raw numbers and quarterly reports with sophisticated, in-depth analysis. The OpenStack Activity Board may not look as pretty as Stackalytics, but the partnership with its developers makes it possible to tap into the best practices of software engineering metrics. I was lucky enough to find good partners in this journey, and to provide an example that other open source communities have followed, from Wikimedia to Eclipse, Apache and others.

OpenStack Upstream Training is another example of a great partner: I was looking into a training program to teach developers about open source collaboration when I spoke in Hong Kong to an old friend, Loic Dachary. He told me about his experiment and I was immediately sold on the idea. After a trial run in Atlanta, we scaled the training up for Paris, Vancouver, plus community members repeated it in Japan already twice. I’m sure OpenStack Upstream Training will be offered also in Tokyo.

It’s not a secret that I can’t stand online forums and that I consider mailing lists a necessary evil. I setup Ask OpenStack for users hoping to provide a place for them to find answers. It’s working well, with a lot of traffic in the English version and a lot less traffic in Chinese. My original roadmap was to provide more languages but we hit some issues with the software powering it (Askbot) that I hope the infra team and the excellent Marton Kiss can solve rapidly.

On the issue of diversity, both gender and geographic, I’m quite satisfied with the results. I admit that these are hard problems that no single community can solve but each can put a drop in the bucket. I believe the Travel Support Program and constant participation in Outreachy are two such drops that help OpenStack be a welcoming place for people from all over the world and regardless of gender. The Board has also recently formalized a Diversity working group.

Of course I wish I did some things better, faster. I’m sorry I didn’t make the CLA easier for casual and independent contributors: I’m glad to see the Board finally taking steps to improve the situation. I wish also I delivered the OpenStack Groups portal earlier and with more features but the dependency on OpenStackID and other projects with higher priorities delayed it a lot. Hopefully that portal will catch up.

I will miss the people at the OpenStack Foundation: I’ve rarely worked with such a selection of smart, hard workers and fun to be around, too. It’s a huge privilege to work with people you actually want to go out with, talk about life, fun, travel, beers, wines and not work.

When we Italians say “ciao,” it means we’re not saying good bye for long.

So long, OpenStack community, see you around the corner.

OpenStack is as start-up friendly as anything

I read someone complaining about OpenStack being not friendly enough to startups one time too many. Latest post by Rob Hirschfeld 10 ways to make OpenStack more Start-up Friendly made me want to respond. I just can’t stand the Greek chorus of complaints, especially from someone who sits on the board and can actually push for changes where necessary. I promised I’d spend time on his 10 points and here is my take on each of them:

Accept companies will have some closed tech – Many investors believe that companies need proprietary IP. An “open all things” company will have more trouble with investors.

Why is this an OpenStack problem? If the VC industry have a problem with open source then the problem is of open source as a whole or of the VC (depending on your point of view). Maybe customers prefer to buy open source based solutions instead of buying proprietary code from small startups. This is not an OpenStack issue.

Stop scoring commits as community currency – Small companies don’t show up in the OpenStack committer economy because they are 1) small and 2) working on their product upstream ahead of OpenStack upstream code.

Code is the most valuable currency in an open source project, there is absolutely no way OpenStack should be any different. Companies small and big will be contributing compared to their size and code is how a small company doing great work can gain more influence than a large company doing little stuff. If you’re saying that the community shouldn’t put first and foremost the “top ten” charts of companies contributing (like stackalytics does), then I agree with you. The Foundation celebrates individual contributors to the release and only counts company. This is not an OpenStack problem. Maybe it is a stackalytics problem and one of the reasons I prefer to partner with Bitergia for the community dashboard.

Have start-up travel assistance – OpenStack demands a lot of travel and start-ups don’t have the funds to chase the world-wide summits and mid-cycles.

OpenStack has already has addressed this problem with the Travel Support Program. In Vancouver the Foundation spent around $50k to send about 30 people from all over the world, from startups and students. If that’s not enough, I’m sure more money can be raised for that. This is not an issue, there is a solution in place already.

Embrace open projects outside of OpenStack governance – Not all companies want or need that type of governance for their start-up code base.  That does not make them less valuable, it just makes them not ready yet.

I don’t even know where this comes from: is anybody forcing anyone to host code on git.openstack.org/openstack namespace? And isn’t the OpenStack project offering for free its resources to host code in our systems, without imposing governance or rules with git.openstack.org/stackforge? If there are companies interested in getting under the OpenStack governance, it’s their choice and based on my knowledge they choose because they get business value off of it. This is a non-issue.

Stop anointing ecosystem projects as OpenStack projects – Projects that are allowed into OpenStack get to grab to a megaphone even if they have minimal feature sets.

Even if this was a problem, and I don’t think it is, it should work in favor of startups: many of them have nothing to show but good intentions, for which a megaphone is exactly what they want and use. This is a non-issue.

Be language neutral – Python is not the only language and start-ups need to make practical choices based on their objectives, staff and architecture.

Nobody forces anyone to become an OpenStack official project (which requires some level of standardization). It’s a choice. And, in any case, there is a lot of javascript and ruby in OpenStack, with pieces in Go also coming. This is a non-issue.

Have a stable base – start-ups don’t have time to troubleshoot both their own product and OpenStack.  Without core stability, it’s risky to add OpenStack as a product requirement.

This is a tautology also it’s something that is being constantly advocated and keeps on improving.

Focus on interoperability – Start-ups don’t have time evangelize OpenStack.  They need OpenStack to have large base of public and private installs because that creates an addressable market.

So let me get this straight: IBM, EMC, Cisco are scooping up the first waves of startup that tried to build a product on the rudimentary OpenStack. Such big guns have the clout to create that large addressable market, lending their credibility to OpenStack as a whole. They also pay good checks to the OpenStack Foundation to power its awesome marketing machine.  This is good for startups: they ride on a wave created with someone else’s money.

Limit big companies from making big pre-announcements – Start-ups primary advantage is being a first/fast mover.  When OpenStack members make announcements of intention (generally without substance) it damages the market for start-ups.  Normally corporate announcements are just noise but they are given credibility when they appear to come from the community.

Yeah, right, like you can really put on a rule against vaporware. It’s the way this market has worked and will continue to work this way. Startups, in any field have to learn how to live with it. This is not an OpenStack issue.

Reduce the contribution tax and patch backlog – Start-ups must seek the path of least friction.  If needed OpenStack code changes require a lot of work and time then they are unlikely to look for less expensive alternatives.

Here I guess you’re talking about contributions to existing OpenStack projects, like Nova, Neutron and the like. If you think that some company can innovate fast on Nova while keeping the interoperability and stable release you talk about above then you’ve managed to confuse me. How realistically can you have some startup rip Nova apart and replace parts of it (all of it?) with the greatest big thing and keep the thousands of users out there with a happy upgradeable path, interoperability and stability? This is just impossible to reconcile. Startups cannot innovate on something that is mature and in production. It would be like asking Apache HTTPD to be something else. Guess what: nginx happened outside of Apache and it’s only natural. As a parallel to OpenStack, if someone comes up with a better Neutron, written in Go or Rust, and wide support I’m ready to bet it will be admitted in the big tent rapidly.

Let me tell you why I think that OpenStack is at least as friendly as any other business environment, and maybe more:

  1. Corporate sponsorship for startups is low, a lot lower than for big corporations. And there are ways to lower the admission price even further (just ask).
  2. The ecosystem is now so huge that cool startups innovating on the edges can get exposed to potential customers, investors and buyers very quickly (the megaphone works).
  3. The ‘cloud’ space is so rapidly changing that the big guys cannot keep up and count on startups to do the risky experimentation. There are lots of big companies in OpenStack, I suppose there are opportunities to find good contacts.
  4. The OpenStack Summits have a whole track dedicated to startups, with talks about funding, business, strategies, acquisitions and more.

And finally a reminder: all startups operate in extremely unfriendly environments, most startups fail for various reasons.

The recent exits of companies that innovated on the edges when OpenStack was held together with shoestring and spit as glue are to me a confirmation that the edges where innovation can happen are just moving outside of Nova and Neutron. It’s just normal and to be expected with the maturity of the project.

Let’s celebrate and be happy for Piston and Blue Box and the others. Startups will always be welcome and will always find a good home in and around OpenStack.