To thrive, OpenStack must better balance dev, ops and business needs.

OpenStack has grown dramatically in many ways but we have failed to integrate development, operations and business communities in a balanced way.

My most urgent observation from Paris is that these three critical parts of the community are having vastly different dialogs about OpenStack.

Clouds DownAt the Conference, business people were talking were about core, stability and utility while the developers were talking about features, reorganizing and expanding projects. The operators, unfortunately segregated in a different location, were trying to figure out how to share best practices and tools.

Much of this structural divergence was intentional and should be (re)evaluated as we grow.

OpenStack events are split into distinct focus areas: the conference for business people, the summit for developers and specialized days for operators. While this design serves a purpose, the community needs to be taking extra steps to ensure communication. Without that communication, corporate sponsors and users may find it easier to solve problems inside their walls than outside in the community.

The risk is clear: vendors may find it easier to work on a fork where they have business and operational control than work within the community.

Inside the community, we are working to help resolve this challenge with several parallel efforts. As a community member, I challenge you to get involved in these efforts to ensure the project balances dev, biz and ops priorities.  As a board member, I feel it’s a leadership challenge to make sure these efforts converge and that’s one of the reasons I’ve been working on several of these efforts:

  • OpenStack Project Managers (was Hidden Influencers) across companies in the ecosystem are getting organized into their own team. Since these managers effectively direct the majority of OpenStack developers, this group will allow
  • DefCore Committee works to define a smaller subset of the overall OpenStack Project that will be required for vendors using the OpenStack trademark and logo. This helps the business community focus on interoperability and stability.
  • Technical leadership (TC) lead “Big Tent” concept aligns with DefCore work and attempts to create a stable base platform while making it easier for new projects to enter the ecosystem. I’ve got a lot to say about this, but frankly, without safeguards, this scares people in the ops and business communities.
  • An operations “ready state” baseline keeps the community from being able to share best practices – this has become a pressing need.  I’d like to suggest as OpenCrowbar an outside of OpenStack a way to help provide an ops neutral common starting point. Having the OpenStack developer community attempting to create an installer using OpenStack has proven a significant distraction and only further distances operators from the community.

We need to get past seeing the project primarily as a technology platform.  Infrastructure software has to deliver value as an operational tool for enterprises.  For OpenStack to thrive, we must make sure the needs of all constituents (Dev, Biz, Ops) are being addressed.

Self-Exposure: Hidden Influencers become OpenStack Product Working Group

Warning to OpenStack PMs: If you are not actively involved in this effort then you (and your teams) will be left behind!

ManagersThe Hidden Influencers (now called “OpenStack Product Working Group”) had a GREAT and PRODUCTIVE session at the OpenStack (full notes):

  1. Named the group!  OpenStack Product Working Group (now, that’s clarity in marketing) [note: I was incorrect saying "Product Managers" earlier].
  2. Agreed to use the mailing list for communication.
  3. Committed to a face-to-face mid-cycle meetup (likely in South Bay)
  4. Output from the meetup will be STRATEGIC DIRECTION doc to board (similar but broader than “Win the Enterprise”)
  5. Regular meeting schedule – like developers but likely voice interactive instead of IRC.  Stefano Maffulli is leading.

PMs starting this group already direct the work for a super majority (>66%) of active contributors.

The primary mission for the group is to collaborate and communicate around development priorities so that we can ensure that project commitments get met.

It was recognized that the project technical leads are already strapped coordinating release and technical objectives.  Further, the product managers are already but independently engaged in setting strategic direction, we cannot rely on existing OpenStack technical leadership to have the bandwidth.

This effort will succeed to the extent that we can help the broader community tied in and focus development effort back to dollars for the people paying for those developers.  In my book, that’s what product managers are supposed to do.  Hopefully, getting this group organized will help surface that discussion.

This is a big challenge considering that these product managers have to balance corporate, shared project and individual developers’ requirements.  Overall, I think Allison Randall summarized our objectives best: “we’re herding cats in the same direction.”

Leveling OpenStack’s Big Tent: is OpenStack a product, platform or suite?

Question of the day: What should OpenStack do with all those eager contributors?  Does that mean expanding features or focusing on a core?

IMG_20141108_101906In the last few months, the OpenStack technical leadership (Sean Dague, Monty Taylor) has been introducing two interconnected concepts: big tent and levels.

  • Big tent means expanding the number of projects to accommodate more diversity (both in breath and depth) in the official OpenStack universe.  This change accommodates the growth of the community.
  • Levels is a structured approach to limiting integration dependencies between projects.  Some OpenStack components are highly interdependent and foundational (Keystone, Nova, Glance, Cinder) while others are primarily consumers (Horizon, Saraha) of lower level projects.

These two concepts are connected because we must address integration challenges that make it increasingly difficult to make changes within the code base.  If we substantially expand the code base with big tent then we need to make matching changes to streamline integration efforts.  The levels proposal reflects a narrower scope at the base than we currently use.

By combining big tent and levels, we are simultaneously growing and shrinking: we grow the community and scope while we shrink the integration points.  This balance may be essential to accommodate OpenStack’s growth.

UNIVERSALLY, the business OpenStack community who wants OpenStack to be a product.  Yet, what’s included in that product is unclear.

Expanding OpenStack projects tends to turn us into a suite of loosely connected functions rather than a single integrated platform with an ecosystem.  Either approach is viable, but it’s not possible to be both simultaneously.

On a cautionary note, there’s an anti-Big Tent position I heard expressed at the Paris Conference.  It’s goes like this: until vendors start generating revenue from the foundation components to pay for developer salaries; expanding the scope of OpenStack is uninteresting.

Recent DefCore changes also reflect the Big Tent thinking by adding component and platform levels.  This change was an important and critical compromise to match real-world use patterns by companies like Swiftstack (Object), DreamHost (Compute+Ceph), Piston (Compute+Ceph) and others; however, it creates the need to explain “which OpenStack” these companies are using.

I believe we have addressed interoperability in this change.  It remains to be seen if OpenStack vendors will choose to offer the broader platform or limit to themselves to individual components.  If vendors chase the components over platform then OpenStack becomes a suite of loosely connect products.  It’s ultimately a customer and market decision.

It’s not too late to influence these discussions!  I’m very interested in hearing from people in the community which direction they think the project should go.

OpenStack Goldilocks’ Syndrome: three questions to help us find our bearings

Goldilocks Atlas

Action: Please join Stefano. Allison, Sean and me in Paris on Monday, November 3rd, in the afternoon (schedule link)

If wishes were fishes, OpenStack’s rapid developer and user rise would include graceful process and commercial transitions too.  As a Foundation board member, it’s my responsibility to help ensure that we’re building a sustainable ecosystem for the project.  That’s a Goldilock’s challenge because adding either too much or too little controls and process will harm the project.

In discussions with the community, that challenge seems to breaks down into three key questions:

After last summit, a few of us started a dialog around Hidden Influencers that helps to frame these questions in an actionable way.  Now, it’s time for us to come together and talk in Paris in the hallways and specifically on Monday, November 3rd, in the afternoon (schedule link).   From there, we’ll figure out about next steps using these three questions as a baseline.

If you’ve got opinions about these questions, don’t wait for Paris!  I’d love to start the discussion here in the comments, on twitter (@zehicle), by phone, with email or via carrier pidgins.

Share the love & vote for OpenStack Paris Summit Sessions (closes Wed 8/6)

 

This is a friendly PSA that OpenStack Paris Summit session community voting ends on Wednesday 8/6.  There are HUNDREDS (I heard >1k) submissions so please set aside some time to review a handful.

Robot VoterMY PLEA TO YOU > There is a tendency for companies to “vote-up” sessions from their own employees.  I understand the need for the practice BUT encourage you to make time to review other sessions too.  Affiliation voting is fine, robot voting is not.

If you are interested topics that I discuss on this blog, here’s a list of sessions I’m involved in:

 

 

Who’s in charge here anyway? We need to start uncovering OpenStack’s Hidden Influencers

After the summit (#afterstack), a few of us compared notes and found a common theme in an under served but critical part of the OpenStack community.  Sean Roberts (HIS POST), Allison Randal (her post), and I committed to expand our discussion to the broader community.

PortholesLack of Product Management¹ was a common theme at the Atlanta OpenStack summit.  That effectively adds fuel to the smoldering “lacking a benevolent dictator” commentary that lingers like smog at summits.  While I’ve come think this criticism has merit, I think that it’s a dramatic oversimplification of the leadership dynamic.  We have plenty of leaders in OpenStack but we don’t do enough to coordinate them because they are hidden.

One reason to reject “missing product management” as a description is that there are LOTS of PMs in OpenStack.  It’s simply that they all work for competing companies.  While we spend a lot of time coordinating developers from competing companies, we have minimal integration between their direct engineering managers or product managers.

We spend a lot of time getting engineering talking together, but we do not formally engage discussion between their product or line managers.  In fact, they likely encourage them to send their engineers instead of attending summits themselves; consequently, we may not even know those influencers!

When the managers are omitted then the commitments made by engineers to projects are empty promises.

At best, this results in a discrepancy between expected and actual velocity.  At worst, work may be waiting on deliveries that have been silently deprioritized by managers who do not directly participate or simply felt excluded the technical discussion.

We need to recognize that OpenStack work is largely corporate sponsored.  These managers directly control the engineers’ priorities so they have a huge influence on what features really get delivered.

To make matters worse (yes, they get worse), these influencers are often invisible.  Our tracking systems focus on code committers and completely miss the managers who direct those contributors.  Even if they had the needed leverage to set priorities, OpenStack technical and governance leaders may not know who contact to resolve conflicts.

We’ve each been working with these “hidden influencers” at our own companies and they aren’t a shadowy spy-v-spy lot, they’re just human beings.  They are every bit as enthusiastic about OpenStack as the developers, users and operators!  They are frequently the loudest voices saying “Could you please get us just one or two more headcount for the team, we want X and Y to be able to spend full-time on upstream contribution, but we’re stretched too thin to spare them at the moment”.

So it’s not intent but an omission in the OpenStack project to engage managers as a class of contributors. We have clear avenues for developers to participate, but pretty much entirely ignore the managers. We say that with a note of caution, because we don’t want to bring the managers in to “manage OpenStack”.

We should provide avenues for collaboration so that as they’re managing their team of devs at their company, they are also communicating with the managers of similar teams at other companies.

This is potentially beneficial for developers, managers and their companies: they can gain access to resources across company lines. Instead of being solely responsible for some initiative to work on a feature for OpenStack, they can share initiatives across teams at multiple companies. This does happen now, but the coordination for it is quite limited.

We don’t think OpenStack needs more management; instead, I think we need to connect the hidden influencers.   Transparency and dialog will resolve these concerns more directly than adding additional process or controls.

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Just for fun, putting themes to OpenStack Conferences

I’ve been to every OpenStack summit and, in retrospect, each one has a different theme.  I see these as community themes beyond the releases train that cover how the OpenStack ecosystem has changed.

The themes are, of course, highly subjective and intented to spark reflection and discussion.

City Release Theme My Commentary
ATL Ice House Its my sandbox! The new marketplace is great and there are also a lot of vendors who want to differentiate their offering and are not sure where to play.
HK Havana Project land grab It felt like a PTL gold rush as lots of new projects where tossed into the ecosystem mix.  I’m wary of perceived “anointed” projects that define “the way” to do things.
PDX Grizzly Shiny new things We went from having a defined core set of projects to a much richer and varied platforms, environments and solutions.
SD Folsom Breaking up is hard to do Nova began to fragment (cinder & quantum neutron)
SF Essex New kids are here Move over Rackspace.  Lots of new operating systems, providers, consulting and hosting companies participating.  Stackalytics makes it into a real commit race.
BOS Diablo Race to be the first Everyone was trying to show that OpenStack could be used for real work.  Lots of startups launched.
SJC Cactus Oh, you like us! We need some process This is real so everyone was exporing OpenStack.  We clearly needed to figure out how to work together.  This is where we migrated to git.
SA Bexar We’re going to take over the world We handed out rose-colored classes that mostly turned out pretty accurate; however. many some top names from that time are not in the community now (Citrix, NASA, Accenture, and others).
ATX Austin We choose “none of the above” There was a building sense of potential energy while companies figured out that 1) there was a gap and 2) they wanted to fill it together.