What foo is “contribution” to open source? Mik Kersten & Tasktop @ SXSW

Nested

How do we really know who influences most in a software project?  We can easily track code commits, but there are more bits to the project than the commits.

I had the good fortune to attend Mik Kersten’s Code Graph presentation at SXSW last week. Mik started the Eclipse Mylyn project and went on to found Tasktop. Both are built on the very intriguing concepts that software development production (aka work) is organized around tasks.

His premise is that organizing around tasks provides a more manageable and actionable view of a project than a more traditional application life-cycle management (ALM) approaches.  I’m a sucker for any presentation about lean development process that includes references to both DevOps and industrial engineering (I have an MS in IE), but Mik surprised me by taking his code graph concept to a whole ‘nutha level.

The software value chain is much deeper than just the people who write code. Mik’s approach included managers, testers and operators in the interaction graphs for his projects.

By including all of the ALM artifacts in the analysis, you get a much richer picture of the influencers for a project.

For example, the development manager may never show up as a code committer; however, they are hugely influential in which work gets prioritized. If your graph includes who is touching the work assignments and stories then the manager’s influence jumps out immediately. That knowledge would completely change how and who you may interact with a team. It effectively brings a shadow contributor into the light.

The same is true for QA members who are running tests and opening defects and operators who are building deployment scripts. Ideally, it should include users who exercise different parts of the applications capabilities.

Mik’s graphs clearly showed the influence impact of managers because they touched all of the story cards for the project.  The people who own the story cards are the most potent influencers in a project, yet they are invisible in code repositories!

I would love to see an impact graph for a software project that equally reflected the wide range of contributions that people make to its life-cycle.  This type of information helps rebalance the power in a project.

Industrial engineering legend W.E. Demming‘s advice is to look at production as a system.  Finding ways to show everyone’s contributions is an important step towards bringing lean processes fully into software manufacturing.

Creating Communities: the intersection between Twitter celebrities and open source

calvin_leeOne of the unexpected perks of my Chevy SXSW experience was access to some real social media celebrities such as Josh Estrin, Calvin LeeKristin Brandt, Doug MoraSamantha Needham and Jennie Chen.  They are all amazing, fun, wicked smart and NOT INTO CLOUD COMPUTING.

While I already knew Samantha (via Dell) and Jennie (via TechRanch), all of Chevy’s guests brought totally different perspectives to Chevy’s SXSW team ranging from pop culture  and mommies to hypermilers and gearheads.

The common thread is that we are all looking to engage our communities.

We each wanted to find something that would be interesting for our very different audiences to discuss.  That meant using our experiences at SXSW, Chevy and with each other to start a conversation within our communities.  We need good content as a seed but the goal is to drive the interaction.

Josh was the most articulate about this point saying that he measured his success when his followers talked to each other more than to him.   Being able to create content that engages people to do that is a true talent.

Calvin’s focus was more on helping people connect.  He felt successful when he was able to bring people together through his extended network. In those cases and others, the goals and challenges of a social media celebrity were remarkably similar to those helping lead open source projects.

In building communities, you must measure success in member communication and interaction.

If you are intent on being at the center of the universe then your project cannot grow; however, people also need celebrities to bring them together.  The amazing thing about the the people I met at SXSW through Chevy is that they managed to both attract the attention needed to build critical mass and get out of the way so communities could form around them. That’s a skill that we all should practice and foster.

PS: I also heard clearly that “I ate …” tweets are some of their most popular.  Putting on my collaboration hat: if you’re looking to engage a community then food is the most universal and accessible discussion topic.  Perhaps I’ll have to eat crow on that one.  

SXSW Volt hard to give up – this is the EV that my family wants me to buy

my volt and I

Today Chevy took my SXSW loaner Volt back to the dealership in the cloud.  While I was already inclined toward the Volt, I was much more impressed that I expected.  Frankly, the fact that the Volt and my home-conversion RAVolt both have a 30 mile range made the Volt seem like a pretend EV on the surface.  Yet, the Volt proved it was a full EV and more.

The Volt is a very solid electric car with the all torque and feel I was expecting.

Since the Volt was delivered without a charge, my first day in the car relied on the gas hybrid feature.  Even on gas, I was getting >40 MPG.  While I would have preferred to get the Volt fully charged, it was an important lesson for me to see it perform as a gas fueled car first.

Once I got it charged, I was able to drive nearly all my trips electric only.  That included my 30+ mile commute.  The magic of the Volt is that I never worried about running out of charge.  As an EV driver who has had close scrapes, that is a truly liberating experience.

I enjoyed playing with the Volt’s drive system.  I managed to find an accurate power input/output gauge on the dash instrumentation (the center console view is mainly a pretty animation for passengers).  I was able to extend my electric range using feedback from the more accurate gauge.  In addition, the built-in tutorial explained that I could use the PRNDL “low gear” in traffic.  Low gear activated behaviors in the Volt that made it more efficient AND EASIER to drive in traffic than conventional gas cars.  I was also intrigued by how efficiently the Volt used its gas generator – it used some smarts so the generator ran as little of possible.  Of course, I also enjoyed the acceleration of the electric motor :)

In addition to the power train, I found the fit and finish of the Volt to be very satisfying.  The electronics were effective, interior comfortable and handling responsive.  While it did not pretend to be a luxury car, the Volt does not feel like a econobox either.

One note: if you are considering a Volt then plan on a 220 charger.  Relying on charging from household power is simply not practical.  Using 220, you can charge quickly at night when power is cheapest/cleanest to generate.

Helping redefine “what is a car” on Chevy tours at SXSWi

I’m at SWSW as a guest of Chevy and enjoying the benefits of behind the scenes tours and access.  On Friday, the Volt team toured me and a collection of bloggers and journalists through the Pecan Street project and GM’s customer interaction center.

At one point, Colin Rowan compared the relatively long cell phone adoption (they first appeared  in 1973) to the likely ramp of electric cars and green homes.  Doug Moran from GearDiary pointed out the weakness of this comparison.  Cell phones are inexpensive with short life-cycles while cars are expensive durables.

However, Cell phones stopped being phones around 2007 when iPhone adoption exploded.  Smart phones are not phones – they are mobile platforms.  In fact, they are lousy phones when compared to cell phones.

Comparing electric cars to gas cars is more like comparing smart phones to dumb phones!

While both electric and gas cars can be used for transportation, electric cars have the potential to become energy transportation platforms.

You cannot use the energy stored in your car’s gas tank for anything but moving the car around.  Further, you can only get more gas from a very small set of vendors.

Electric cars are fundamentally different – the energy stored in the car’s batteries can be apply to nearly any application you want from transportation to lighting to computing to heating and refrigeration.  Further, you can get more energy for your car from nearly any source (local solar and wind or grid power).  For a hybrid like the Volt, the options are even broader because it includes gas to electricity generation.

From this perspective, electric cars are an energy mobility platform.

We need to accept that we are living in a world with unreliable power distribution due to weather, peak demand and/or carbon tax.   In this type of situation, cars with batteries are as fundamentally different from gas cars as smart phones are to rotary POTS phone.

PS: For more extra credit reading, check out the Vehicle to Grid concept

SXSWi bound thanks to GM & Chevy Volt

I’ll be blogging from SXSWi over the next few days as a guest of the Chevy Volt team AND they’ve given me a Volt to drive for the week (disclaimer: total cash value of $1150).  I’ve been in Austin for over 10 years and find it ironic that my electric car past gets me to event instead of my cloud or software work.  Either way, I’m delighted to attend.

RAVolt maiden 037Yes, I have electric car construction experience…

About 6 years ago before the first days of $4 gas, I took on the entrepreneurial/science project of converting an electric car (a 96 RAV4) to run on batteries.   The result proved clearly that there was no sustainable business in converting gas cars to electric because the mechanics are different enough to require purpose-built design.

My conversion project, the RAVolt, is still in daily use with over 3,000 electric miles.  I never intended it to be a show car – my goal was to be time and cash effective so it uses the most time-tested components: lead acid batteries, 18 hp elevator motor and a forklift DC control system.   With a 30 minute range, it has limited utility.

And now, I find myself in the market for a new car AND being given a Volt for the week.  The Volt was on my short list to consider (I drive a Honda Fit now) along with the Tesla S, Leaf and Smart.  This topic deserves it’s own post.

For the next few days, I’m going to wallow in the SXSWi nerdfest and enjoy experimenting with a production class electric car.  I will, of course, be sharing my experiences and observations about both here and on twitter.  Both are subjects of long-standing interest.

Disclaimer: Chevy has provided me with a SXSWi pass and Volt use ($1150 value).  They have asked for nothing in return and I have made no commitments for favorable comments.  Further, my employer, Dell, is aware of this arrangement with Chevy.  My opinions are my own.

How OpenStack installer (crowbar + chefops) works (video from 3/14 demo)

July 24th 2012 Update:

This page is very very old and Crowbar has progressed significantly since this was posted.  For better information, please visit the Crowbar wiki and  review my Crowbar 2 writeups.

August 5th 2011 Update:

While still relevant and accurate, the information on this page does not reflect the latest information about the now Apache 2 released Crowbar code.  In the 4+ months following this post, we substantially refactored the code make make it more modular (see Barclamps), better looking, and multi-vendor/multi-application (Hadoop & RHEL).  If you want more information, I recommend that you try Crowbar for yourself.

Original March 14th 2011 Text:

I’ve been getting some “how does Crowbar work” inquiries and wanted to take a shot at adding some technical detail.   Before I launch into technical babble, there are some important things to note:

  1. Dell has committed to open source release the code for Crowbar (Apache 2)
  2. Crowbar is an extension of Chef Server – it does not function stand alone and uses Chef’s APIs to store all it’s data.
  3. The OpenStack components install is managed by Chef cookbooks & recipes jointly developed by Dell, Opscode and Rackspace.
  4. Crowbar can be used to simply bootstrap your data center; however, we believe it is the start of a cloud operational model that I described in the hyperscale cloud white paper.

LIVE DEMO (video via Barton George): If you’re at SXSW on 3/14 @ 2pm in Kung Fu Salon, you can ask Greg Althaus to explain it – he does a better job than I do.

Here’s what you need to know to understand Crowbar:

Crowbar is a PXE state machine.

The primary function of Crowbar is to get new hardware into a state where it can be managed by Chef.   To get hardware into a “Chef Ready” state, there are several steps that must be performed.  We need to setup the BIOS, RAID, figure out where the server is racked, install an operating system, assign IP networking and names, synchronize clocks (NTP) and setup a chef client linked to our server.  That’s a lot of steps!

In order to do these steps, we need to boot the server through a series of controlled images (stages) and track the progress through each state.  That means that each state corresponds to a PXE boot image.  The images have a simple script that uses WGET to update the Crowbar server (which stores it’s data in Chef) when the script completes.  When a state is finished, Crowbar will change the PXE server to provide the next image in the sequence.

During the Crowbar managed part of the install, the servers will reboot several times.  Once all of the hardware configuration is complete, Crowbar will use an operating system install image to create the base configuration.  For the first release, we are only planning to have a single Operating System (Ubuntu 10.10); however, we expect to be adding more operating system options.

The current architecture of Crowbar (and the Chef Server that it extends) is to use a dedicated server in the system for administration.  Our default install adds PXE, DHCP, NTP, DNS, Nagios, & Ganglia to the admin server.  For small systems, you can use Chef to add other infrastructure capabilities to the admin server; unfortunately, adding components makes it harder to redeploy the components.  For dynamic configurations where you may want to rehearse deployments while building Chef recipes, we recommend installing other infrastructure services on the admin server.

Of course, the hardware configuration steps are vendor specific.  We had to make the state machine (stored in Chef data bags) configurable so that you can add or omit steps.  Since hardware config is slow, error prone and painful, we see this as a big value add.  Making it work for open source will depend on community participation.

Once Chef has control of the servers, you can use Chef (on the local Chef Server) to complete the OpenStack installation.  From there, you can continue to use Chef to deploy VMs into the environment.  Because Chef encourages a DevOps automation mindset, I believe there is a significant ROI to your investment in learning how this tool operates if you want to manage hyperscale clouds.

Crowbar effectively extends the reach of Chef earlier into the cloud management life cycle.

3/21 Note: Updated graphic to show WGET.

Demo Redux: OpenStack installer SXSW demo of Chef + Crowbar

If you missed the OpenStack installer demo at Cloud Connect Event then you’ll have another chance to see us go from bare iron to provisioning VMs in under 30 minutes at SXSW on Monday 3/14 from 2-4 pm at Kung Fu Saloon.

Note: Rackspace rented out the Kung Fu Saloon all day Monday, and are doing various events — from live webinars to a Scoble tweetup to a happy hour and more VIP after hours event.

The demo will be orchestrated by Greg Althaus from my team at Dell.  Greg is the primary architect for Crowbar and responsible for some of it’s amazing capabilities including the Chef integrations, network discovery and rockin’ PXE state machine.  Dell Cloud Evanglist, Barton George, will also be on hand.

Of course, our friends from Opscode & Rackspace will be there too – this is Rackspace’s party (they are a Platinum SXSW sponsor)

More more information (outside of this blog, of course), check out http://www.Dell.com/OpenStack.