Start-ups are Time Machines for Big Companies [and open source is a worm hole]

My time at Dell (ended 10/2014) forced me to correct one of the most common misconceptions I hear about big companies – that they cannot innovate. My surprise at Dell was not the lack of innovation, but it’s overabundance. Having talked to many colleagues at big companies, I find the same pattern is everywhere. It’s not that these companies lack amazing and creative ideas, it’s that they have so many that it’s impossible for them to filter and promote them.

Innovation at a big company is like a nest of baby chicks all fighting for a worm but the parent bird can’t decide which chicks to feed.

In order for an idea to win at a big company, it generally has to shout so loudly and promise so extravagantly that it’s setup to fail right out of incubation. Consequently, great ideas are either never launched or killed in adolescence. Of course YMMV, but I’ve seen this pattern repeated throughout the tech industry.

TeamTimeCar.com-BTTF DeLorean Time Machine-OtoGodfrey.com-JMortonPhoto.com-07.jpg

“TeamTimeCar.com-BTTF DeLorean Time Machine-OtoGodfrey.com-JMortonPhoto.com-07″ by Terabass. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

What big companies really need is a time machine. That way, they can retroactively pick the right innovation and nurture it into a product that immediately benefits from their customer base, support infrastructure and market presence.

Money is a time machine.

With enough money, they can go backwards in time and unwind the decision to not invest in that innovative idea or team. It’s called purchasing a company. Sure, there’s a significant cash premium but that’s easier than stealing more plutonium for your DeLorean. In my experience, it’s behaviorally consistent for companies to act quickly on large outlays for retroactively correct decisions while being unwilling to deal with the political and long-term planning aspects of incubation.

I’ve come to embrace this cycle of innovation with an interesting twist: the growth of open source business models enables a new degree of cross innovation between start-ups and big companies. With open source, corporate locked innovators can exercise their ideas with start-ups and start-ups can leverage the talent and financial depth of big companies.

That’s like creating temporal worm holes in the venture-time continuum. Now that sounds like a topic for a future post… thoughts?

DefCore Process 9 Point Graphic balances Community, Vendor, Goverance

I’ve been working on the OpenStack DefCore process for nearly 3 years and our number #1 challenge remains how to explain it simply.

10 days ago, the DefCore committee met face-to-face in Austin to work on documenting the process that we want to follow (see Guidelines).  As we codify DefCore, our top priority is getting community feedback and explaining the process without expecting everyone to read the actual nut-and-bytes of the process.

I think of it as writing the DefCore preamble: “We, the community, in order to form a more perfect cloud….”

defcore 9 pointsI don’t think we’ve reached that level of simplicity; however, we have managed to boil down our thinking into nine key points.  I’m a big Tufte fan and believe that visualizations are essential to understanding complex topics.  In my experience, it takes many many iterations with feedback to create excellent graphics.  This triangle is my first workable pass.

An earlier version of these points were presented to the OpenStack board in December 2014 and we’ve been able to refine these during the latest DefCore community discussions.

We’re interested in hearing your opinions.  Here are the current (2015-Feb-22) points:

  1. COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT
    1. MAPPING FEATURE AVAILABILITY: We are investing in gathering data driven and community involved feedback tools to engage the largest possible base for core decisions.   This mapping information will be available to the community.
    2. COMMUNITY CHOSEN CAPABILITIES :  Going forward, we want a community process to create, cluster and describe capabilities.  DefCore bootstrapped this process for Havana.  Further, Capabilities are defined by tests in Tempest so test coverage gaps (like Keystone v2) translate into Core gaps that the community will fill by writing tests.
    3. TESTS AS TRUTH: DefCore could expand in the future, but uses Tempest as the source of tests for now.  Gaps in Test will result in DefCore gaps.  We are hosting final documents in the Gerrit, using the OpenStack review process to ensure that we work within the community processes.
  2. VENDOR
    1. CLEAR RESULTS (PASS-FAIL): Vendors must pass all required core tests as defined by this process.  There are no partial results.  Passing additional tests is encouraged but not required.
    2. VENDORS SELF-TEST: Companies are responsible for running tests and submitting to the Foundation for validation against the DefCore criteria.  Approved vendor reports will be available for the community.
    3. APPEAL PROCESS / FLAGGED TESTS: There is a “safety valve” for vendors to deal with test scenarios that are currently difficult to recreate in the field.  We expect flags to be temporary.
  3. GOVERNANCE
    1. SCORING BASED ON TRANSPARENT PROCESS (DEFCORE): The 2015 by-laws change requires the Board and TC to agree to a process by which the Foundation can hold OpenStack Vendors accountable for their use of the trademarks.
    2. BOARD IS FINAL AUTHORITY: The Board is responsible for approving the final artifacts based on the recommendations.  By having a transparent process, community input is expected in advance of that approval.
    3. TIMELY GUIDANCE: The process is time sensitive.  There’s a need for the Board to produce DefCore guidance in a timely way after each release and then feed that result into the next cycle.  The guidance is expected to be drafted for review at each Summit and then approved at the Board meeting three months after the draft is posted.

OpenStack DefCore Accelerates & Simplifies with Clear and Timely Guidelines [Feedback?]

Last week, the OpenStack DefCore committee rolled up our collective sleeves and got to work in a serious way.  We had a in-person meeting with great turn out
with 5 board members, Foundation executives/staff and good community engagement.

defcore timelineTL;DR > We think DefCore deliverables should be dated milestone guidelines instead tightly coupled to release events (see graphic).

DefCore has a single goal expressed from two sides: 1) defining the “what is OpenStack” brand for Vendors and 2) driving interoperability between OpenStack installations.  From that perspective, it is not about releases, but about testable stable capabilities.  Over time, these changes should be incremental and, most importantly, trail behind new features that are added.

For those reasons, it was becoming confusing for DefCore to focus on an “Icehouse” definition when most of the capabilities listed are “Havana” ones.  We also created significant time pressure to get the “Kilo DefCore” out quickly after the release even though there were no “Kilo” specific additions covered.

In the face-to-face, we settled on a more incremental approach.  DefCore would regularly post a set of guidelines for approval by the Board.  These Guidelines would include the required, deprecated (leaving) and advisory (coming) capabilities required for Vendors to use the mark (see footnote*).  As part of defining capabilities, we would update which capabilities were included in each component and  which components were required for the OpenStack Platform.  They would also include the relevant designated sections.  These Guidelines would use the open draft and discussion process that we are in the process of outlining for approval in Vancouver.

Since DefCore Guidelines are simple time based lists of capabilities, the vendors and community can simply reference an approved Guideline using the date of approval (for example DefCore 2015.03) and know exactly what was included.  While each Guideline stands alone, it is easy to compare them for incremental changes.

We’ve been getting positive feedback about this change; however, we are still discussing it and appreciate your input and questions.  It is very important for us to make DefCore simple and easy.  For that, your confused looks and WTF? comments are very helpful.

* footnote: the Foundation manages the OpenStack brand and the process includes multiple facets.  The DefCore Guidelines are just one part of the brand process.

OpenStack PSA: Individual members we need more help – Please Vote!

1/17 Update: We did it!  We reached quorum and approved all the changes!  Also, I am honored to have been re-elected to the Board.  Thank you for the support.

I saw the latest report and we’ve still got a LONG WAY TO GO to get to the quorum that we need.  Don’t let your co-worker or co-contributor be the one missing vote!

Note: If you thing you should have gotten a ballot email but did not.  Contact the OpenStack Election Secretary for assistance.  OpenStack voting is via YOUR PERSONALIZED EMAIL only – you cannot use someone else’s ballot.

Here’s the official request that we’ve been forwarding in the community

OpenStack Individual Members we need your help – Please Vote!

Untitled drawingIncluded on the upcoming individual elections ballot is set of proposed bylaw changes [note: I am also seeking re-election]. To be enacted, these changes require approval by the individual members. At least 25% of the Individual Members must participate in this election in order for the vote to take effect which is why we are reaching out to you. The election will start Monday January 12, 2015 and run thru Friday January 16, 2015.

The unprecedented growth, community size and active nature of the OpenStack community have precipitated the need for OpenStack Bylaw updates. The updates will enable our community to adapt to our continued rapid growth, change and diversity, while reflecting our success and market leadership. Although the proposed changes only effect a small set of verbiage in the bylaws, the changes eliminate some of the hard coded values and naive initial assumptions that found their way into the bylaws when they were initially created in 2013. Those initial assumptions did not anticipate that by 2015 we would have such a large, active community of over 17,000 individual members, over 430 corporate members, and a large diverse set of OpenStack based products and services.

Through many months of community iterative discussion and debate, the DefCore team and board have unanimously accepted a set of changes that are now placed before you for your approval. The changes replace the original hard coded “core” definition with a process for determining the software elements required for use of the OpenStack commercial trademark. Processes which will also account for future revisions and determinations for Core and Trademark Policy.

Note: Another change sets the quorum level at a more reasonable 10%, so these PSAs should not be required in the future.

Complete details on the proposed changes are located at:
https://wiki.openstack.org/wiki/Governance/Foundation/2014ProposedBylawsAmendment

Complete details on the 2015 Board Election are located at:
http://www.openstack.org/election/2015-individual-director-election/

Voting time for OpenStack! Your help needed to push Bylaws & DefCore forward.

1/17 Update: We did it!  We reached quorum and approved all the changes!  Also, I am honored to have been re-elected to the Board.  Thank you for the support!

What does OpenStack mean to you?

Vote Now!To me, it’s more than infrastructure software: it’s a community of people and companies working together in revolutionary way.  To make that work, we need people who invest time to bring together diverse interests and perspectives.

I have worked hard to provide neutral and inclusive view points on the OpenStack board.  The critical initiatives I focused on [DefCore, Gold Membership, Product Managers] need focused leadership to progress.  I have proven my commitment to those efforts and would be honored to be re-elected [see my platforms for 2012, 2013 & 2014].

But more important than voting for me, is that we reach a 25% quorum!

Why?  Because there are critical changes to the OpenStack bylaws on the ballot.

What type of changes?  Basically, the changes allow OpenStack governance to keep up with the pace of our evolution.    These are pragmatic changes that have been thoroughly discussed in the community.  They enable OpenStack to:

  • set a smarter quorum – past elections only achieved half the required turn out to changes the bylaws
  • enable the DefCore process – current core is defined as simply using code in select projects.
  • improve governance of required committees
  • tweak release language to match current practice,

To hit 25%, we need everyone, not just the typical evangelists to encourage voting.  We need you to help spread the word and get others to do the same.

I’m counting on you, please help. 

10 pounds of OpenStack cloud in a 5 pound bag? Do we need a bigger bag?

Yesterday, I posted about cloud distruptors that are pushing the boundaries of cloud. The same forces pull at OpenStack where we are working to balance between including all aspects of running workloads and focusing on a stable foundation.

Note: I am seeking re-election to the 2015 OpenStack Board.  Voting starts 1/12.

For weeks, I’ve been reading and listening to people inside and outside the community.  There is considerable angst about the direction of OpenStack.  We need to be honest and positive about challenges without simply throwing stones in our hall of mirrors.

Closing 2014, OpenStack has gotten very big, very fast.  We’ve exploded scope, contributions and commercial participants.  Unfortunately, our process infrastructure (especially the governance by-laws) simply have not kept pace.  It’s not a matter of scaling processes we’ve got; many of the challenges created by growth require new approaches and thinking (Thierry’s post).

OpenStack BagIn 2015, we’re trying to put 10 pounds of OpenStack in a 5 pound bag.  That means we have to either a) shed 5 pounds or b) get a bigger bag.  In classic OpenStack style, we’re sort of doing both: identifying a foundational base while expanding to allow more subprojects.

To my ear, most users, operators and business people would like to see the focus being on the getting the integrated release scope solid.  So, in spirit of finding 5 pounds to shave, I’ve got five “shovel ready” items that should help:

  1. Prioritizing stability as our #1 feature.  Accomplishing this will require across the broad alignment of the vendor’s product managers to hold back on their individual priorities in favor of community.  We’ve started this effort but it’s going to take time to create the collaboration needed.
  2. Sending a clear signal about the required baseline for OpenStack.  That’s the purpose of DefCore and should be felt as we work on the Icehouse and Juno definitions.
  3. Alignment of the Board DefCore project with Technical Committee’s Levels/Big Tent initiative.  By design, these efforts interconnect.  We need to make sure the work is coordinated so that we send a clearly aligned message to the technical, operator, vendor and user communities.
  4. Accelerate changes from single node gate to something that’s either a) more services focused or b) multi-node.  OpenStack’s scale of community development  requires automation to validate the new contributions do not harm the existing code base (the gate).  The current single-node gate does not reflect the multi-node environments that users target with the code.  While it’s technically challenging to address this mismatch, it’s also essential so we ensure that we’re able to validate multi-node features.
  5. Continue to reduce drama in the open source processes.   OpenStack is infrastructure software that should enable an exciting and dynamic next generation of IT.  I hear people talk about CloudStack as “it’s not as exciting or active a community but their stuff just works.”  That’s what enterprises and operators want.  Drama is great for grabbing headings but not so great for building solid infrastructure.

What is the downside to OpenStack if we cannot accomplish these changes?  Forks.

I already see a clear pattern where vendors are creating their own distros (which are basically shallow forks) to preserve their own delivery cycle.  OpenStack’s success is tied to its utility for the customers of vendors who fund the contributors.  When the cost of being part of the community outweighs the value, those shallow forks may become true independent products.

In the case of potential forks, they allow vendors to create their own bag and pick how many pounds of cloud they want to carry.  It’s our job as a community in 2015 to make sure that we’ve reduced that temptation.

1/9/15 Note: Here’s the original analogy image used for this post

2015, the year cloud died. Meet the seven riders of the cloudocalypse

i can hazAfter writing pages of notes about the impact of Docker, microservice architectures, mainstreaming of Ops Automation, software defined networking, exponential data growth and the explosion of alternative hardware architecture, I realized that it all boils down to the death of cloud as we know it.

OK, we’re not killing cloud per se this year.  It’s more that we’ve put 10 pounds of cloud into a 5 pound bag so it’s just not working in 2015 to call it cloud.

Cloud was happily misunderstood back in 2012 as virtualized infrastructure wrapped in an API beside some platform services (like object storage).

That illusion will be shattered in 2015 as we fully digest the extent of the beautiful and complex mess that we’ve created in the search for better scale economics and faster delivery pipelines.  2015 is going to cause a lot of indigestion for CIOs, analysts and wandering technology executives.  No one can pick the winners with Decisive Leadership™ alone because there are simply too many possible right ways to solve problems.

Here’s my list of the seven cloud disrupting technologies and frameworks that will gain even greater momentum in 2015:

  1. Docker – I think that Docker is the face of a larger disruption around containers and packaging.  I’m sure Docker is not the thing alone.  There are a fleet of related technologies and Docker replacements; however, there’s no doubt that it’s leading a timely rethinking of application life-cycle delivery.
  2. New languages and frameworks – it’s not just the rapid maturity of Node.js and Go, but the frameworks and services that we’re building (like Cloud Foundry or Apache Spark) that change the way we use traditional languages.
  3. Microservice architectures – this is more than containers, it’s really Functional Programming for Ops (aka FuncOps) that’s a new generation of service oriented architecture that is being empowered by container orchestration systems (like Brooklyn or Fleet).  Using microservices well seems to redefine how we use traditional cloud.
  4. Mainstreaming of Ops Automation – We’re past “if DevOps” and into the how. Ops automation, not cloud, is the real puppies vs cattle battle ground.  As IT creates automation to better use clouds, we create application portability that makes cloud disappear.  This freedom translates into new choices (like PaaS, containers or hardware) for operators.
  5. Software defined networking – SDN means different things but the impacts are all the same: we are automating networking and integrating it into our deployments.  The days of networking and compute silos are ending and that’s going to change how we think about cloud and the supporting infrastructure.
  6. Exponential data growth – you cannot build applications or infrastructure without considering how your storage needs will grow as we absorb more data streams and internet of things sources.
  7. Explosion of alternative hardware architecture – In 2010, infrastructure was basically pizza box or blade from a handful of vendors.  Today, I’m seeing a rising tide of alternatives architectures including ARM, Converged and Storage focused from an increasing cadre of sources including vendors sharing open designs (OCP).  With improved automation, these new “non-cloud” options become part of the dynamic infrastructure spectrum.

Today these seven items create complexity and confusion as we work to balance the new concepts and technologies.  I can see a path forward that redefines IT to be both more flexible and dynamic while also being stable and performing.

Want more 2015 predictions?  Here’s my OpenStack EOY post about limiting/expanding the project scope.