Why Governance Matters in Open Source: Discussing the OpenStack Foundation

This post is part of my notes from the 2/1 Boston OpenStack meetup.

OpenStack Foundation

Your’s truly (Rob Hirschfeld) gave the presentation about the OpenStack Foundation.  To readers of this blog, it’s obvious that I’m a believer in the OpenStack mission; however, it’s not obvious how creating a foundation helps with that mission and why OpenStack needs its own. As one person at the meetup put it, “Why not? Every major project needs a foundation!”

Governance does not sound sexy compared to writing code and deploying clouds, but it’s very important to the success of the project.

Here are my notes without the poetic elocution I exuded during the meetup…

The basics:

  • What: Creating a neutral body to govern OpenStack. Rackspace has been leading OpenStack. This means that they own the copyrights, name and also pay the people who organize the community. They committed (to executives at Dell and others) that they would ultimately setup a standalone body to govern the project before the project was public and endorsed by those early partners. Dell (my employer), Citrix, Accenture and NASA were some of biggest names at the Austin conference launch.
  • Why: A neutral body is needed because a lot of companies are committing significant time and money to the project. They cannot risk their investments on Rackspace good will alone. This may mean many things. It could be they don’t like Rackspace direction or they feel that Rackspace is not investing enough.
  • When: Right now and over the next few releases.  You should give feedback right now on the OpenStack Foundations mission.  The actual foundation will take more time to establish because it requires legal work and funding commitments.
  • Who: The community – all stakeholders. This is important stuff! While trying to standup a financially independent Foundation, which requires moneys, the little guys are not left out. There is a clear realization and desire to enable independent developers and contributors and small players to have a seat at the table.
  • How Much: The amounts are unclear, but establishing a foundation will require a significant ongoing investment from highly involved and moneyed parties (Rackspace, Dell, Cisco, HP, Citrix, NTT, startups?, etc).  The funding will pay salaries for people dedicated to the community doing the things that I’ll discuss below.  Overall, the ROI for those investments must be clear!

The foundation does “governance.” But, what does that mean? Here is a list of vitally important work that the foundation is responsible for.

  • Branding – Protecting, certifying, and promoting the OpenStack brand is important because it ensures that “OpenStack” has a valuable and predictable meaning to contributors and users. A strong the brand also means a stronger temptation for people to abuse the brand by claiming compatibility, participation and integration.
  • API – Many would assume that the OpenStack API is the very heart of the project and there is merit to this position. As more and more OpenStack implementations emerge, it is essential that we have a body that can certify which implementations (and even which versions of the implementation!) are valid. This is a substantial value to the community because API integrity ensures project continuity and helps the ecosystem monetize the project. Note: my opinion differs from others here because I think we should favor API over implementation
  • Community – The OpenStack community is not an accident. It is the function of deliberate actions and choices made by Rackspace and supported by key contributors. That community requires virtual and physical places to coalesce and leaders to organize and manage those meeting places. The excellent conferences, wikis, blogs, media awareness, documentation and meetups are a product of consistent community management.
  • Arbitration – An open source community is a family and siblings do not always get along. Today, Rackspace must be very careful about balancing their own interests because they are like the oldest sibling playing the parent role – you can get away with it until something serious happens. We need a neutral party so that Rackspace can protect their own interests (alternate spin: because Rackspace protects their own interests at the expense of the community).
  • Leadership – OpenStack today is a collection of projects with individual leadership. We will increasingly need coordinated leadership as the number of projects and users increases. Centralized leadership is essential because the good of the project as a whole may mean sacrifices within individual projects. It may even mean that some projects chose to leave the OpenStack tent. Stewarding these challenges will require a new level of leadership.
  • Legal – This is a function of all the above but also something more. From a legal stand point, OpenStack be able to represent itself. There is a significant amount of intellectual property being created. It would be foolish to overlook that this property is valuable and needs adequate legal representation.

I used “vitally important” to describe the above items. Is that an exaggeration? Our goal is collaboration and that requires some infrastructure and rules to make it sustainable. We must have a foundation that encourages innovation (multiple implementations) and collaboration (discourages forking). Innovation and collaboration are the heartbeat of an open source project.

The foundation is vitally important because collaboration by competitors is fragile.

In addition to the core areas above, the foundation needs to handle routine tactical items such as:

  • Delivering on milestones & releases
  • Moving new subprojects into OpenStack
  • Electing and maintaining Project Policy Board
  • Electing and maintaining Project Technical Leads
  • Ensuring adherence and extensions to the current bylaws

At the end of the day, OpenStack monetization is the central value for the Foundation.

In order for the OpenStack project, and thus its foundation, to flourish, the contributors, ecosystem, sponsors and users of the project must be able to see a reasonable return (ROI) on their investment. I would love to believe that the foundation is allow about people banding together to solve important problems for the benefit of all; however, it is more realistic to embrace that we can both collaborate and profit simultaneously. Acknowledging the pragmatic self-interested view allows us to create the right incentives and processes as embodied by the OpenStack foundation.

6 thoughts on “Why Governance Matters in Open Source: Discussing the OpenStack Foundation

  1. Pingback: OpenStack Boston Meetup 2/1 covers Quantum & Foundation « Rob Hirschfeld's Blog

  2. Pingback: OpenStack Essex Deploy Day 3/8 – Get involved and install with us « Rob Hirschfeld's Blog

  3. Pingback: Dell Cloud in the Community – events, speaking and sponsorships! « Rob Hirschfeld's Blog

  4. Pingback: I am seeking your vote(s) for the OpenStack Board « Rob Hirschfeld's Blog

  5. Pingback: I am seeking your vote(s) for the OpenStack Board « The JBGeorge Tech Blog

  6. Pingback: OpenStack Board needs Consensus Governance « Rob Hirschfeld's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s