Supply Chain Transparency drives Open Source adoption, 6 reasons besides cost

Author’s note: If you don’t believe that software is manufactured then go directly to your TRS80, do not collect $200.

I’m becoming increasingly impatient with people stating that “open source is about free software” because it’s blatantly untrue as a primary driver for corporate adoption.   Adopting open source often requires companies (and individuals) to trade-off one cost (license expense) for another (building expertise).  It is exactly the same balance we make between insourcing, partnering and outsourcing.

Full Speed Ahead

When I probe companies about what motivates their use of open source, they universally talk about transparency of delivery, non-single-vendor ownership of the source and their ability to influence as critical selection factors.  They are generally willing to invest more to build expertise if it translates into these benefits.  Viewed in this light, licensed software or closed services both cost more and introduce significant business risks where open alternatives exist.

This is not new: its basic manufacturing applied to IT

We had this same conversation in the 90s around manufacturing as that industry joltingly shifted from batch to just-in-time (aka Lean) manufacturing.  The key driver for that transformation was improved integration and management of supply chains.   We review witty doctoral dissertations about inventory, drum-buffer-rope flow and economic order quantity; however, trust my summary that it all comes down to companies need supply chain transparency.

As technology becomes more and more integral to delivering any type of product, companies must extend their need for supply chain transparency into their IT systems too.   That does not mean that companies expect to self-generate (insource) all of their technology.  The goal is to manage the supply chain, not to own every step.   Smart companies find a balance between control of owning their supply (making it themselves) and finding a reliable supply (multi-source is preferred).  If you cannot trust your suppliers then you must create inventory buffers and rigid contracts.  Both of these defenses limit agility and drive systemic dysfunction.  This was the lesson learned from Lean Just-In-Time manufacturing.

What does this look like for IT supply chains?

A healthy supply chain allows companies to address these issues.  They can:

  1. Change vendors / suppliers and get equivalent supply
  2. Check the status of deliveries (features)
  3. Review and impact quality
  4. Take deliverables in small frequent batches
  5. Collaborate with suppliers to manage & control the process
  6. Get visibility into the pipeline

None of these items are specific to software; instead, they are general attributes of a strong supply chain.  In a closed system, companies lose these critical supply chain values.  While tightly integrated partnerships can provide these benefits, they carry a cost premium and inherently limit vendor choice.

This sounds great!  What’s the cost?

You need to consider the level of supply chain transparency that’s right for you.  Most companies are no more likely to refine their own metal than to build from pure open source repositories.  There are transparency benefits from open source even from a single supplier.  Yet in some cases like the OpenStack community, systems are so essential that they are warrant investing as core competencies and joining the contributing community.  Even in those cases, most rely on vendors to package and extend their chosen open source software.

But that misses the point: contributing to an open source project is not required in managing your IT supply chain.  Instead, you need to build the operational infrastructure and processes that is open source ready.  They may require investing in skills and capabilities related to underlying technologies like the operating system, database or configuration management.  For cloud, it is likely to require more investment fault-tolerant architecture and API driven deployment.  Companies that are strong in these skills are better able to manage an open source IT supply chain.  In fact, they are better able to manage any IT supply chain because they have more control.

So, it’s not about cost…

When considering motivations for open source adoption, cost (or technology sizzle) should not be the primary factor.  In my experience, the most successful implementations focus first about operational readiness and project stability, and program transparency.  These questions indicate companies are thinking with an IT supply chain focus.

Reference Deployments are Critical [2/4 series on Operating Open Source Infrastructure]

This post is the second in a 4 part series about Success factors for Operating Open Source Infrastructure.

plansWhen we look at reference deployments, there are several things that make a good referenced deployment; and ones that are useful by the community.

First, a referenced deployment needs to be specific and useful. They have to be identified as solving a specific problem using the software. And they have to have a specific configuration that can be described in a way that creates a workable scenario for that. There may be multiple useful reference implementations. And in that case, each one needs to be identified as the – by the expected behavior. For example, our deployments include a compute centric configuration that has hardware configurations and network configurations adapted to compute focused applications.

They also have storage focused applications that are specifically targeted at enabling cheap and deep storage nodes for that type of situation. Both configurations are important and valid but they require different implementations, different details and different reference architectures. As long as it is clear that there are multiple patterns, the community is perfectly able to absorb and use these patterns.

Establishment of a widely adopted best practice is a central success criteria for any project.

Best practices ensure that deployers of the technology cannot only purchase implementations that will be successful, but they can also compare notes to work with their community. A significant adoption curve happens after the establishment of these best practices because at that point, the risk of purchase dramatically drops, and the ability to support radically increases. The next thing that’s important in the establishment of these technologies is that that reference implementation or the reference architecture has a way to be configured in a repeatable way.

Very often, this takes the form of deployment books from manuals. While useful in small deployments, in a hyperscale deployment the books really have diminishing value. This is because the level of human error – the chance of making a fundamental mistake during configuration – increases exponentially with the number of nodes, because each node is tightly interconnected with other nodes within the system.

My team at Dell launched the Crowbar project as a way to reduce or mitigate this effort substantially. We recognized that the number one cause of delays and impacts in time to value in a hyperscale deployment is configuration and set-up. Any simple mistake made during configuration, even down to ordering of the gear, or physical defects within the infrastructure, will create dramatic delays in troubleshooting and diagnosing those issues. By automating the process, we have ensured that we can bootstrap the system quickly.

The goal of automated best practice is to bootstrap in a conforming and repeatable way. This enables the community to work together immediately towards return on investment, and greatly reduces the risk of problems caused by human error. For example, it’s typical within a site for us to find that network configurations do not match the specifications. In many cases, we find issues with the core networking infrastructure not matching the way it was originally designed. We also find failures on physical infrastructure, disk failures, system mismatches,and unanticipated configuration. Any one of these problems with a human setup might be missed or overlooked.

Validated reference architectures, while valuable, are no longer sufficient.   Automated reference configurations have become the key to successfully delivered solutions.

Interested in more?  Read part 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I’m learning open source best practice from Middle School Students

Engineering in open source projects is a different skillset than most of us have ever been trained for; happily, there is a rising cohort of engineers and scientists who have been learning to work in exactly the ways that industry is now demanding.   Here’s the background…

hedge_teamI’ve been helping mentor two FIRST Robotics teams (FLL & FTC) this season and had the privilege to accompany the FLL team (which includes my daughter) to the FIRST World Festival where a global mix of students from 6 to 18 competed, collaborated and celebrated for a wide range of awards and recognition.  The experience is humbling – these students are taking on challenges (for fun) that would scare off most adults.

While I could go on and on about my experience and the FIRST mission, I’d rather share some of what my 12 year old daughter wrote to her coach after the competition:

Thank you Coach for all of the lessons and advice you have shared with me this season. I really appreciate all of the time and effort you have put into making this team the best we could be. You have taught us so much and we will definitely walk away from this season with the new skills and experiences. You were an amazing coach and not only did you help and support us, you also gave us the freedom to be independent so we can learn skills like leadership, time management and meeting with busy schedules. I loved being on this team and I hope this will not be the last of the Hedgehogs.

FIRST designs the program so that these experiences are the norm, not the exception.

Here are some of the critical open source engineering skills I observed first hand at all levels of the competition.

  • Collaboration: at all levels, participants are strongly rewarded for collaborating, mentoring and working together.   Team simply cannot advance without mastering this skill.
  • Consensus: judges actively test and watch for consensus behavior.  This is actively coached and encouraged because the teams quickly learn to appreciate a diversity of strengths.
  • Risk Taking with Delivery: the very nature of competition encourages teams to think big and balance risk with delivery.
  • Celebration: this has to be experienced but the competitions are often compared to rock concerts.  Everyone is involved and every aspect is celebrated.   FIRST is a culture.
  • Situational Judgment: this competition is fast and intense so participants learn to think on their feet.  This type of experience is amazingly valuable and hard to get in class room settings.

In my experience, everyone in open source needs more practice and experience DOING open source work.  I suggest getting involved in these programs as a mentor, judge or volunteer because it’s the most effective hands-on open source training I can imagine.

Doing is Doing – my 10 open source principles

2013-07-14_17-28-21_468Open source projects’ greatest asset is their culture and FOSS practitioners need to deliberately build and expand it. To me, culture is not soft or vague.  Culture is something specific and actionable that we need to define and hold people accountable for.

I have simple principles that guide me in working in open source.   At their root, they are all simply “focus on the shared work.”

I usually sum them up as “Doing is Doing.”  While that’s an excellent test to see if you’re making the right choices, I suspect many will not find that tautology sufficiently actionable.

The 10 principles I try to model in open source leadership:

  1. Leadership includes service: connecting, education, documentation and testing
  2. Promotion is a two-edged sword – leaders needs to take extra steps to limit self-promotion or we miss hearing the community voice.
  3. Collaboration must be modeled by the leaders with other leaders.
  4. Vision must be articulated, but shared in a way that leaves room for new ideas and tactical changes.
  5. Announcements should be based on available capability not intention. In open source, there is less need for promises and forward-looking statements because your actions are transparent.
  6. Activity (starting from code and beyond) should be visible (Github = social coding) – it’s the essence of collaboration.
  7. Testing is essential because it allows other people to join with reduced risk.
  8. Docs are essential because it reduces friction for users to adopt.
  9. Upstreaming (unlike Forking) is a team sport so be prepared for some give-and-take.
  10. It’s not just about code, open source is about solving shared problems together.  When we focus on the shared goals (“the doing”) then the collaboration comes naturally.

Crowbar lays it all out: RAID & BIOS configs officially open sourced

MediaToday, Dell (my employer) announced a plethora of updates to our open source derived solutions (OpenStack and Hadoop). These solutions include the latest bits (Grizzly and Cloudera) for each project. And there’s another important notice for people tracking the Crowbar project: we’ve opened the remainder of its provisioning capability.

Yes, you can now build the open version of Crowbar and it has the code to configure a bare metal server.

Let me be very specific about this… my team at Dell tests Crowbar on a limited set of hardware configurations. Specifically, Dell server versions R720 + R720XD (using WSMAN and iIDRAC) and C6220 + C8000 (using open tools). Even on those servers, we have a limited RAID and NIC matrix; consequently, we are not positioned to duplicate other field configurations in our lab. So, while we’re excited to work with the community, caveat emptor open source.

Another thing about RAID and BIOS is that it’s REALLY HARD to get right. I know this because our team spends a lot of time testing and tweaking these, now open, parts of Crowbar. I’ve learned that doing hard things creates value; however, it’s also means that contributors to these barclamps need to be prepared to get some silicon under their fingernails.

I’m proud that we’ve reached this critical milestone and I hope that it encourages you to play along.

PS: It’s worth noting is that community activity on Crowbar has really increased. I’m excited to see all the excitement.

What makes OpenStack meaningful to the market?

THIS POST IS #2 IN A SERIES ABOUT “WHAT IS CORE.”

What gives a project a strong core? 

A strong project has utility, community, and longevity.

TelescopeUtility, community and longevity are the fundamental objectives of any project or product.  It must do something that people find useful (utility).  It’s not enough for one person to like the project, there must be a market (community).  And that useful and popular work must be sustainable over multiple “generations” (longevity).

These goals are basic.  The challenge is finding the right rules to keep OpenStack in the sustainable project zone.  Unfortunately, as an open source project, the OpenStack Foundation ultimately has very little real power (like hiring flocks of developers) to enforce use or maintenance of the code base.

The Foundation’s tools are velocity, culture, and brand.  Understanding “what is core” hones these tools to ensure they are effective.

Velocity – the rate of progress and quality of the code base.  A project at sufficient velocity is not worth forking or duplicating.  The fact that >1000 developers companies are contributing and 100s of companies are deploying OpenStack makes it profitable to remain in our community.   Make no mistake: being part of a community takes effort so there must be a return on that investment.  The foundation must ensure that commercial entities find an ROI from their participation.

Culture – open source culture strongly encourages sharing and collaboration.  I have seen that culture as a more potent force than the legalese and licenses.  While a strong culture reinforces itself, a toxic culture will rot a project like ice cream in the summerCulture maintenance is a chief foundation objective and includes fostering new users, documentation, orderly interactions and co-opetitive collaboration.

Brand – when all else fails, OpenStack can use legal means to define our brand.  This is the weakest of all the tools because the strength of the defense is only as good as the brand.  If we allow the OpenStack brand (sometimes we say it’s mark) to become weak or diluted then people have little reason to support velocity or culture.

An important insight when looking at these three control levers is that they are very different between individuals and corporations.  While individuals may highly motivated by culture they are not as motivated by brand; conversely, corporations are highly motivated by brand and compliance and minimally by culture.

As the OpenStack Foundation Board takes up the “what is core” question, we must be cognizant of the duality between individual and corporate interests.  OpenStack must be both meaningful culturally to individuals and strong brand-wise to corporations.   Both are needed to sustain OpenStack’s velocity.

READ POST IS #2: SPIDER CHART

my lean & open source reading list – recommendations welcome!

Cube Seat

I think it’s worth pulling together a list of essential books that I think should be required reading for people on Lean & open source teams (like mine):

  • Basis for the team values that we practice: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable Patrick Lencioni (amazon)
  • This is a foundational classic for team building:  Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams (Second Edition) Tom DeMarco (amazon)
  • This novel is good primer for lean and devops The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win Gene Kim and George Spafford & Kevin Behr (amazon)
  • Business Focus on Lean: The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses Eric Ries (amazon)
  • Foundational (and easy) reading about Lean: The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement Eliyahu M. Goldratt (amazon)
  • One of my favorites on Lean / Agile: Implementing Lean Software Development: From Concept to Cash Mary Poppendieck (amazon)
  • Should be required reading for open source (as close to “Open Source for Dummies as you can get): The Cathedral & the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary Eric S. Raymond (amazon)
  • Culture Change Liquid Leadership: From Woodstock to Wikipedia–Multigenerational Management Ideas That Are Changing the Way We Run Things Brad Szollose (amazon)
  • More Team Building – this one is INTERACTIVE! http://www.strengthsfinder.com/home.aspx

There are some notable additions, but I think this is enough for now.  I’m always looking for recommendations!  Please post your favorites in the comments!

7 takeaways from DevOps Days Austin

Block Tables

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday at DevOpsDays Austin and continue to be impressed with the enthusiasm and collaborative nature of the DOD events.  We also managed to have a very robust and engaged twitter backchannel thanks to an impressive pace set by Gene Kim!

I’ve still got a 5+ post backlog from the OpenStack summit, but wanted to do a quick post while it’s top of mind.

My takeaways from DevOpsDays Austin:

  1. DevOpsDays spends a lot of time talking about culture.  I’m a huge believer on the importance of culture as the foundation for the type of fundamental changes that we’re making in the IT industry; however, it’s also a sign that we’re still in the minority if we have to talk about culture evangelism.
  2. Process and DevOps are tightly coupled.  It’s very clear that Lean/Agile/Kanban are essential for DevOps success (nice job by Dominica DeGrandis).  No one even suggested DevOps+Waterfall as a joke (but Patrick Debois had a picture of a xeroxed butt in his preso which is pretty close).
  3. Still need more Devs people to show up!  My feeling is that we’ve got a lot of operators who are engaging with developers and fewer developers who are engaging with operators (the “opsdev” people).
  4. Chef Omnibus installer is very compelling.  This approach addresses issues with packaging that were created because we did not have configuration management.  Now that we have good tooling we separate the concerns between bits, configuration, services and dependencies.  This is one thing to watch and something I expect to see in Crowbar.
  5. The old mantra still holds: If something is hard, do it more often.
  6. Eli Goldratt’s The Goal is alive again thanks to Gene Kims’s smart new novel, The Phoenix project, about DevOps and IT  (I highly recommend both, start with Kim).
  7. Not DevOps, but 3D printing is awesome.  This is clearly a game changing technology; however, it takes some effort to get right.  Dell brought a Solidoodle 3D printer to the event to try and print OpenStack & Crowbar logos (watch for this in the future).

I’d be interested in hearing what other people found interesting!  Please comment here and let me know.

From orphans to open source, data matters

TMF ChildrenMy wife’s day job helps Indian orphans through the Miracle Foundation here in Austin. On the surface, our jobs are very different; however, there is lately more and more intersection in both form and substance. It was not always like that, initially the Miracle Foundation primary engagement had been an emotional appeal: “look, these orphans are sad, they need you. Did we mention that they are orphans?”

Joking aside, there are plenty of kind people who want to help children; however, there are a lots of worthy causes with equally strong appeal. The question is how do you pick which one? Donors/Contributors want one that is both emotionally appealing and effective.

While radically different in human impact, both of raising orphans and building open source rely heavily on personal engagement and passion for success. Just like non-profits, there are many open source projects that want you to invest your time in installing and contributing to their most worthy technology.

About 18 months ago, the Miracle Foundation pivoted their strategy from tending individual children towards cultivating whole orphanages (the “NEST program”, video below). They started tracking things like how much milk and fruit each child ate and if they had been vaccinated. They connected observable data like hemoglobin levels of children to their ability to pay attention in school. They were even aware of additional days girls spent in school just because they got monthly hygiene products.

NEST Spider Graph

Used with Permission, The Miracle Foundation

With this new program, the Miracle Foundation can tell you exactly how much benefit each child will receive from each dollar. These are real results derived from collecting real data, and the results are powerful.

The children the Miracle Foundation nurtures are going from subsistence to flourishing. This is not happening because people care more about these children than before. It is happening because someone is keeping the data and making sure that the support they give gets the results they want. This in turn helps donors (become one) feel confident that their emotional response is delivering tangible improvements. Both are essential to TMF’s mission.

Open source projects have a similar gestalt.

People and companies contributing time and resources to a project want to both believe in the technology and see tangible metrics to validate adoption. Open source transparency makes it easier to find active projects and people are engaged contributors, but it can be harder to determine if the project is having broader impact.

For OpenStack, these tangible metrics began to surface in the last few days. Before the summit, Stephano Muffulli, community manager, launched the OpenStack Activity Board to show commit and quality data for the project. Last Monday, Tim Bell & Ryan Lane presented the results of the first user survey which showed how and what users are adopting for OpenStack.

If you like seeing this type of data driven behavior then vote with your keyboard and become part of an active open source project. For non-profits like the Miracle Foundation, voting is even easier – you just need a credit card to join in their Mothers’ Day campaign. Your mom may not understand anything you add to open source, but she can understand when you help orphans.

Continue reading

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.