Operators, they don’t want to swim Upstream

Operators Dinner 11/10

Nov 10, Palo Alto Operators Dinner

Last Tuesday, I had the honor of joining an OpenStack scale operators dinner. Foundation executives, Jonathan Bryce and Lauren Sell, were also on the guest list so talk naturally turned to “how can OpenStack better support operators.” Notably, the session was distinctly not OpenStack bashing.

The conversation was positive, enthusiastic and productive, but one thing was clear: the OpenStack default “we’ll fix it in the upstream” answer does not work for this group of operators.

What is upstreaming?  A sans nuance answer is that OpenStack drives fixes and changes in the next community release (longer description).  The project and community have a tremendous upstream imperative that pervades the culture so deeply that we take it for granted.  Have an issue with OpenStack?  Submit a patch!  Is there any other alternative?

Upstreaming [to trunk] makes perfect sense considering the project vendor structure and governance; however, it is a very frustrating experience for operators.   OpenStack does have robust processes to backport fixes and sustain past releases and documentation; yet, the feeling at the table was that they are not sufficiently operator focused.

Operators want fast, incremental and pragmatic corrections to the code and docs they are deploying (which is often two releases back).  They want it within the community, not from individual vendors.

There are great reasons for focusing on upstream trunk.  It encourages vendors to collaborate and makes it much easier to add and expand the capabilities of the project.  Allowing independent activity on past releases creates a forward integration mess and could make upgrades even harder.  It will create divergence on APIs and implementation choices.

The risk of having a stable, independently sustained release is that operators have less reason to adopt the latest shiny release.  And that is EXACTLY what they are asking for.

Upstreaming is a core value to OpenStack and essential to our collaborative success; however, we need to consider that it is not the right answer to all questions.  Discussions at that dinner reinforced that pushing everything to latest trunk creates a significant barrier for OpenStack operators and users.

What are your experiences?  Is there a way to balance upstreaming with forking?  How can we better serve operators?

Curious about SDN & OpenStack? We discuss at Open Networking Summit Panel (next Thursday)

Next Thursday (6/18), I’m on a panel at the SJC Open Networking Summit with John Zannos (Canonical), Mark Carroll (HP), Mark McClain (VMware).  Our topic is software defined networking (SDN) and OpenStack which could go anywhere in discussion.
OpenStack is clearly driving a lot of open innovation around SDN (and NFV).
I have no idea of what other’s want to bring in, but I was so excited about the questions that I suggested that I thought to just post them with my answers here as a teaser.

1) Does OpenStack require an SDN to be successful?

Historically, no.  There were two networking modes.  In the future, expect that some level of SDN will be required via the Neutron part of the project.

More broadly, SDN appears to be a critical component to broader OpenStack success.  Getting it right creates a lock-in for OpenStack.

2) If you have an SDN for OpenStack, does it need to integrate with your whole datacenter or can it be an island around OpenStack?

On the surface, you can create an Island and get away with it.  More broadly, I think that SDN is most interesting if it provides network isolation throughout your data center or your hosting provider’s data center.  You may not run everything on top of OpenStack but you will be connecting everything together with networking.

SDN has the potential to be the common glue.

3) Of the SDN approaches, which ones seem to be working?  Why?

Overall, the overlay networking approaches seem to be leading.  Anything that requires central control and administration will have to demonstrate it can scale.  Anything that actually requires re-configuring the underlay networking quickly is also going to have to make a lot of progress.

Networking is already distributed.  Anything that breaks that design pattern has an uphill battle.

4) Are SDN and NFV co-dependent?  Are they driving each other?

Yes.  The idea of spreading networking functions throughout your data center to manage east-west or individual tenant requirements (my definition of NFV) requires a way to have isolated traffic (one of the uses for SDN).

5) Is SDN relevant outside of OpenStack?  If so, in what?

Yes.  SDN on containers will become increasingly important.  Also, SDN termination to multi-user systems (like a big database) also make sense.

6) IPv6?  A threat or assistance to SDN?

IPv6 is coming, really.  I think that IPv6 has isolation and encryption capabilities that compete with SDN as an overlay.  Widespread IPv6 adoption could make SDN less relevant.  It also does a better job for multi-cloud networking since it’s neutral and you don’t have to worry about which SDN tech your host is using.

10 ways to make OpenStack more Start-up Friendly [even more critical in wake of recent consolidation]

The Josh McKenty comment that OpenStack is “aggressively anti-startup” for Business Insider got me thinking and today’s news about IBM & Cisco acquiring startups Blue Box & Piston made me decide to early release this post.

2013-03-11_20-01-50_458I think there’s a general confusion about start-ups in OpenStack.  Many of the early (and now acquired) start-ups were selling OpenStack the platform.  Since OpenStack is community infrastructure, that’s a really hard place to differentiate.  Unfortunately, there’s no material install base (yet) to create an ecosystem of start-ups on top of OpenStack.

The real question is not how to make OpenStack start-up friendly, but how to create a thriving system around OpenStack like Amazon and VMware have created.

That said, here’s my list of ten ways that OpenStack could be more start-up friendly:

  1. Accept companies will have some closed tech – Many investors believe that companies need proprietary IP. An “open all things” company will have more trouble with investors.
  2. Stop scoring commits as community currency – Small companies don’t show up in the OpenStack committer economy because they are 1) small and 2) working on their product upstream ahead of OpenStack upstream code.
  3. Have start-up travel assistance – OpenStack demands a lot of travel and start-ups don’t have the funds to chase the world-wide summits and mid-cycles.
  4. Embrace open projects outside of OpenStack governance – Not all companies want or need that type of governance for their start-up code base.  That does not make them less valuable, it just makes them not ready yet.
  5. Stop anointing ecosystem projects as OpenStack projects – Projects that are allowed into OpenStack get to grab to a megaphone even if they have minimal feature sets.
  6. Be language neutral – Python is not the only language and start-ups need to make practical choices based on their objectives, staff and architecture.
  7. Have a stable base – start-ups don’t have time to troubleshoot both their own product and OpenStack.  Without core stability, it’s risky to add OpenStack as a product requirement.
  8. Focus on interoperability – Start-ups don’t have time evangelize OpenStack.  They need OpenStack to have large base of public and private installs because that creates an addressable market.
  9. Limit big companies from making big pre-announcements – Start-ups primary advantage is being a first/fast mover.  When OpenStack members make announcements of intention (generally without substance) it damages the market for start-ups.  Normally corporate announcements are just noise but they are given credibility when they appear to come from the community.
  10. Reduce the contribution tax and patch backlog – Start-ups must seek the path of least friction.  If needed OpenStack code changes require a lot of work and time then they are unlikely to look for less expensive alternatives.

While I believe these items would help start-ups, they would have negative consequences for the large corporate contributors who have fashioned OpenStack into the type of project that supports their needs.

I’d love to what items you think I’ve overlooked or incorrectly added.

How Nebula shows why the OpenStack community (and OSS in general) should care about profits

Fancy DogsIn dog piling onto the news about early OpenStack provider Nebula’s demise, I’ll use their news to reinforce my belief that open communities need to ensure that funds are flowing to leaders and contributors.  This is one of the reasons that I invest time in DefCore: having a clear base product definition helps create healthy vendors.

Open source software is not simply free VC funded projects.  The industry needs a stable transparent supply chain of software to build on.

I am not asserting anything about Nebula’s business or model.  To me, it is a single downward data point in my ongoing review of vendor health in the OpenStack community.  OpenStack features and functions will not matter if vendors in the community cannot afford to sustain them.

For enterprises to rely on open source software supply chains, they need to make sure they are paying into the community.  The simplest route to “paying in” is through vendors.

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?

7 Open Source lessons from your English Composition class

We often act as if coding, and especially open source coding, is a unique activity and that’s hubris.   Most human activities follow common social patterns that should inform how we organize open source projects.  For example, research papers are very social and community connected activities.  Especially when published, written compositions are highly interconnected activities.  Even the most basic writing builds off other people’s work with due credit and tries create something worth being used by later authors.

Here are seven principles to good writing that translate directly to good open source development:

  1. Research before writing – take some time to understand the background and goals of the project otherwise you re-invent or draw bad conclusions.
  2. Give credit where due – your work has more credibility when you acknowledge and cross-reference the work you are building on. It also shows readers that you are not re-inventing.
  3. Follow the top authors – many topics have widely known authors who act as “super nodes” in the relationship graph. Recognizing these people will help guide your work, leads to better research and builds community.
  4. Find proof readers – All writers need someone with perspective to review their work before it’s finished. Since we all need reviewers, we all also need to do reviews.
  5. Rework to get clarity – Simplicity and clarity take extra effort but they pay huge dividends for your audience.
  6. Don’t surprise your reader – Readers expect patterns and are distracted when you don’t follow them.
  7. Socialize your ideas – the purpose of writing/code is to make ideas durable. If it’s worth writing then it’s worth sharing.  Your artifact does not announce itself – you need to invest time in explaining it to people and making it accessible.

Thanks to Sean Roberts (a Hidden Influences collaborator) for his contributions to this post.  At OSCON, Sean Roberts said “companies should count open source as research [and development investment]” and I thought he’s said “…as research [papers].”  The misunderstanding was quickly resolved and we were happy to discover that both interpretations were useful.

The Upstream Imperative: paving the way for content creators is required for platform success

Since content is king, platform companies (like Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook and Amazon) win by attracting developers to build on their services.  Open source tooling and frameworks are the critical interfaces for these adopters; consequently, they must invest in building communities around those platforms even if it means open sourcing previously internal only tools.

This post expands on one of my OSCON observations: companies who write lots of code have discovered an imperative to upstream their internal projects.   For background, review my thoughts about open source and supply chain management.

Huh?  What is an “upstream imperative?”  It sounds like what salmon do during spawning then read the post-script!

Historically, companies with a lot of internal development tools had no inventive to open those projects.  In fact, the “collaboration tax” of open source discouraged companies from sharing code for essential operations.   Historically, open source was considered less featured and slower than commercial or internal projects; however, this perception has been totally shattered.  So companies are faced with a balance between the overhead of supporting external needs (aka collaboration) and the innovation those users bring into the effort.

Until recently, this balance usually tipped towards opening a project but under-investing in the community to keep the collaboration costs low.  The change I saw at OSCON is that companies understand that making open projects successful bring communities closer to their products and services.

That’s a huge boon to the overall technology community.

Being able to leverage and extend tools that have been proven by these internal teams strengthens and accelerates everyone. These communities act as free laboratories that breed new platforms and build deep relationships with critical influencers.  The upstream savvy companies see returns from both innovation around their tools and more content that’s well matched to their platforms.

Oh, and companies that fail to upstream will find it increasingly hard to attract critical mind share.  Thinking the alternatives gives us a Windows into how open source impacts past incumbents.

That leads to a future post about how XaaS dog fooding and “pure-play” aaS projects like OpenStack and CloudFoundry.

Post Script about Upstreaming:

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