My OpenStack Super User Interview [cross-post]

This post of my interview for the OpenStack Super User site originally appeared there on 3/23 under the title “OpenStack at 10: different code, same collaboration?”

With over 15 years of cloud experience, Rob Hirschfeld also goes way back with OpenStack. His involvement dates to before it was officially founded and he was also one of the initial Board Members. In addition to his role as Individual Director, Hirschfeld currently chairs the DefCore committee. He’ll be speaking about DefCore at the upcoming Vancouver Summit with Alan Clark, Egle Sigler and Sean Roberts.

He talks to Superuser about the importance of patches, priorities for 2015 and why you should care about OpenStack vendors making money.

Superuser: You’ve been with the project since before it started, where do you hope it will be in five years?

In five years, I expect that nearly every line of code will have been replaced. The thing that will endure is the community governance and interaction models that we’re working out to ensure commercial collaboration.

[3/24 Added Clarification Note: I find humbled watching traditionally open-unfriendly corporations using OpenStack to learn how to become open source collaborations.  Our governance choices will have long lasting ramifications in the industry.] 

What is something that a lot of people don’t know about OpenStack?

It was essentially a “rewrite fork” of Eucalyptus created because they would not accept patches.  That’s a cautionary tale about why accepting patches is essential that should not get lost from the history books.

Any thoughts on your first steps to the priorities you laid out in your candidacy profile?

I’ve already started to get DefCore into an execution phase with additional Board and Foundation leadership joining into the effort.  We’ve set a very active schedule of meetings with two sub-committees running in parallel…It’s going to be a busy spring.

You say that the company you founded, RackN, is not creating an OpenStack product. How are you connected to the community?

RackN supports OpenCrowbar which provides a physical ready state infrastructure for scale platforms like OpenStack. We are very engaged in the community from below by helping make other distributions, vendors and operators successful.

What are the next steps to creating the “commercially successful ecosystem” you mentioned in your candidacy profile? What are the biggest obstacles to this?

We have to make stability and scale a critical feature. This will mean slowing features and new projects; however, I hear a lot of frustration that OpenStack is not focused on delivering a solid base.

Without a base, the vendors cannot build profitable products.  Without profits, they cannot keep funding the project. This may be radical for an open project, but I think everyone needs to care more if vendors are making money.

What are some more persistent myths about the cloud?

That the word cloud really means anything.  Everyone has their own definition.  Mine is “infrastructure with an API” but I’d happily tell you it’s also about process and ops.

Who are your real-life heroes?

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) founders Dean Kamen and Woodie Flowers. They executed a real vision about how to train for both competition and collaboration in the next generation of engineers.  Their efforts in building the next generation of leaders really impact how we will should open source collaboration. That’s real innovation.

What do you hope to get out of the next summit?

First, I want to see vendors passing DefCore requirements.  After that, I’d like to see the operators get more equal treatment and I’m hoping to spend more time working with them so they can create places to share knowledge.

What’s your favorite/most important OpenStack debate?

There are two.  First, I think the API vs. implementation is a critical growth curve for OpenStack.  We need to mature past being so implementation driven so we can have stand alone APIs.

Second, I think the “benevolent dictator” discussion is useful. Since we are never going to have one, we need a real discussion about how to define and defend project wide priorities in a meaningful way.  Resolving both items is essential to our long-term viability.

My OpenStack Vancouver Session Promotion Dilemma – please, vote outside your block

We need people to promote their OpenStack Sessions, but how much is too much?

Megaphone!Semi-annually, I choose to be part of the growing dog pile of OpenStack summit submissions.  Looking at the list, I see some truly amazing sessions by committed and smart community members.  There are also a fair share of vendor promotions.

The nature of the crowded OpenStack vendor community is that everyone needs to pick up their social media megaphones (and encourage some internal block voting) to promote their talks.   Consequently, please I need to ask you to consider voting for my list:

  1. DefCore 2015 
  2. The DefCore Show: “is it core or not” feud episode
  3. Mayflies: Improve Cloud Utilization by Forcing Rapid Server Death [Research Analysis] (xref)
  4. It’s all about the Base. If you want stability, start with the underlay [Crowbar] 
  5. State of OpenStack Product Management

Why am I so reluctant to promote these excellent talks?  Because I’m concerned about fanning the “PROMOTE MY TALKS” inferno.

For the community to function, we need for users and operators to be heard.  The challenge is that the twin Conference/Summit venue serves a lot of different audiences.

In my experience, that leads to a lot of contributor navel gazing and vendor-on-vendor celebrations.  That in turn drowns out voices from the critical, but non-block-enabled users and operators.

Yes, please vote those sessions of mine that interest you; however, please take time to vote more broadly too.  The system randomized which talks you see to help distribute voting too.

Thanks.

OpenStack DefCore Enters Execution Phase. Help!

OpenStack DefCore Committee has established the principles and first artifacts required for vendors using the OpenStack trademark.  Over the next release cycle, we will be applying these to the Ice House and Juno releases.

Like a rockLearn more?  Hear about it LIVE!  Rob will be doing two sessions about DefCore next week (will be recorded):

  1. Tues Dec 16 at 9:45 am PST- OpenStack Podcast #14 with Jeff Dickey
  2. Thurs Dec 18 at 9:00 am PST – Online Meetup about DefCore with Rafael Knuth (optional RSVP)

At the December 2014 OpenStack Board meeting, we completed laying the foundations for the DefCore process that we started April 2013 in Portland. These are a set of principles explaining how OpenStack will select capabilities and code required for vendors using the name OpenStack. We also published the application of these governance principles for the Havana release.

  1. The OpenStack Board approved DefCore principles to explain
    the landscape of core including test driven capabilities and designated code (approved Nov 2013)
  2. the twelve criteria used to select capabilities (approved April 2014)
  3. the creation of component and framework layers for core (approved Oct 2014)
  4. the ten principles used to select designated sections (approved Dec 2014)

To test these principles, we’ve applied them to Havana and expressed the results in JSON format: Havana Capabilities and Havana Designated Sections. We’ve attempted to keep the process transparent and community focused by keeping these files as text and using the standard OpenStack review process.

DefCore’s work is not done and we need your help!  What’s next?

  1. Vote about bylaws changes to fully enable DefCore (change from projects defining core to capabilities)
  2. Work out going forward process for updating capabilities and sections for each release (once authorized by the bylaws, must be approved by Board and TC)
  3. Bring Havana work forward to Ice House and Juno.
  4. Help drive Refstack process to collect data from the field

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.