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.

OpenStack Boston Meetup 2/1 covers Quantum & Foundation

My team at Dell was in Beantown (several of us are Nashua based) for an annual team meeting so the timing for this Boston meetup.  Special thanks to Andi Abes for organizing and Suse for Sponsoring!!

We covered two primary topics: Quantum and the OpenStack Foundation.

In typing up my notes from the sessions, I ended up with so much information that it made more sense to break them into independent blog posts. Wow – that’s a lot of value from a free meetup!eetup was ideal for us. While we showed up in force, so did many other Stackers including people from HP, Nicira, Suse, Havard, Voxel, RedHat, ESPN and many more! The turnout for the event was great and I’m taking notes that Austin may need to upgrade our pizza and Boston may need to upgrade their cookies (just sayin’).

The Quantum session by David Lapsley from Nicira talked about the architecture and applications of Quantum. I think that Quantum is an exciting incubated project for OpenStack; however, it is important to remember that Essex stands alone without it. I believe this fact gets forgotten in enthusiasm over Quantum’s shiny potential.

The OpenStack session by Rob Hirschfeld from Dell (me!) talked about the importance of governance for OpenStack and how the Foundation will play a key role in transitioning it from Rackspace to a neutral party. There are many feel-good community benefits that the Foundation brings; however, the collaborators’ ROI is driver for creating a strong foundation. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging that fact and using it to create a more sustainable OpenStack.

Quantum: Network Virtualization in the OpenStack Essex Release

This post is part of my notes from the 2/1 Boston OpenStack meetup.


David Lapsley from Nicira gave the Quantum presentation (his slides). My notes include additional explication and interpretation so he is not to blame for errors (but I’ll share credit for clarity).

The objective for Quantum is to replace the current networking modes (flat, vlan, dhcp, dhcp ha) with a programmatic networking API. The idea is that cloud users would use the API to request the network topology they wanted to implement rather than have it imposed by the infrastructure’s network mode. To accomplish this, the API must allow users to create complex & hierarchical network topologies without being aware of the underlying network infrastructure (aka “an abstraction layer”).

In simpler terms: Quantum allows users to design their own isolated networks without knowing how the network is actually deployed.

Quantum is a stand-alone service with its own API. It is not simply an extension of the Nova API. The Quantum API an extensibility model similar to Nova and it also has a plug-in architecture so that it can be implementation agnostic. The plug-ins are needed to map the user’s API abstraction into actual networking. For example, if the user requests a network tunnel between two VMs then the plug in may choose to implement a tagged VLAN, OpenFlow connections, IPtable filters, or encapsulated tunnels. The goal is that the implementation of the API should not matter to the user of the API!

For (hopefully) obvious reasons, the use cases the Quantum are similar to the Amazon EC2 VPC. The notable exception is service injection. Quantum wants to allow vendors/providers to innovate around value-added services. This should result in a diversity of choices as vendors offer additional network services such as load balancers, IPS, IDS, etc. While this is a great concept, it’s important to note that Quantum is currently limited to a single plug-in!  [see note in comments by Quantum PTL Dan Wendlandt (@danwendlandt)]

The expectation is that cloud users will want to create traditional application topologies with different tiers of access. For example, applications may require a dedicated network between web and database tiers or a DMZ between web and load balancer. The challenge is that these are patterns not rigid requirements. Ultimately, the simplest solution for the feature is to allow users to create “virtual VLANs.”

Essentially, the current Quantum API is creating virtual VLANs.

The Quantum API has four basic abstractions: interface, network, port and attachment. These primitives are used to build up a virtual network just as they are in physical networks.

  • Interface: cloud / tenant / server / GUID / eth0
  • Network: cloud / tenant / network / GUID
  • Port: cloud ID / tenant / network / GUID / port / GUID
  • Attachement : interface & network & port

To use the Quantum API, you must create a network, add ports (to network) and interfaces (to vms) then attach the network, interface, and port together. This gives users very fine grained control over their network topology. It is up to the plug-in to translate these primitives into a working physical topology.

According to my teammate and OSBOS organizer, Andi Abes, the Quantum API reached consensus in the community quickly because these it started with this basic but extensible API. In the meeting, I added that this approach is typical for OpenStack where it is considered better to demonstrate working core functionality than build extra complexity into the initial delivery. This approach links back to the API vs. Implementation debate I’ve discussed before. This simple API also provides room for innovation – while providing the basic constructs it is light, and does not encumber mappings of this API to different underlying technologies with lots of extras. OEM Vendors and service providers this have an easier time differentiating their offerings be it equipment or services.

In my experience, people often link OpenFlow and Quantum into a single technology base. I have certainly been guilty making that generalization. Quantum does not require OpenFlow or vice versa; however, they are highly complementary. OpenFlow takes over the switches’ “flow table” and allows administrators to control how every packet that touches the switch is routed. The potential for OpenFlow is to create highly dynamic and controlled network conduits. Quantum needs exactly that functionality to most directly map the virtual network requests into a physical fabric. In this way, OpenFlow is the most direct approach to building a fully enabled Quantum plug-in.

In the Essex release, progress has been made (and still is being made) towards integrating Nova and Quantum. The workflow of attaching a VIF (virtual interface) to the right network, and assigning it an appropriate IP (using Melange – the OpenStack IP address management project) are making headway. That said, the dashboard integration still lags and more progress is required.

Overall, my impression is that Quantum has great potential; however, I think that Nova in Essex will be sufficient for real applications without Quantum. As my freshman roommate used to say, “potential means you’ve got to keep working on it.”

Rackspace will balance control of OpenStack. It takes time & strong partners

Rick Clark’s post “Why I Left Rackspace and What About Openstack” (+ his softer post script) is part of a longer conversation that started when Rackspace acquired Anso Labs and was expanded with the resignation of Chris Kemp (NASA CTO & OpenStack #1 fanboy).

Building a community is a delicate balance: you need show leadership while you cultivate leadership.

Putting aside the context (resigning from Rackspace to join Cisco) of his post, I think that Rick’s comments do resonate with parts of the community.  OpenStack goverance became unbalanced when Anso became Rackspace.  The governance board formed at the Austin conference was dominated by a small number (2: NASA/Anso & Rackspace) of highly committed voices but there was no single master.

Considering OpenStack’s momentum, we are in a very good position to fix the single master problem.  However, it takes time.  While companies like Dell (my employer), NTT, Citrix, Cisco (Rick’s employer), and Microsoft are clearly investing in OpenStack, none have yet achieved NASA or Rackspace’s level of technical committment.

The challenge for Rackspace is to expand the OpenStack market and ecosystem so that partners are motivated to jump in more and more quickly.  If my experiences inside Dell are indicative of the broader community, Rackspace’s leadership makes it much easier for partners to increase their own commitment.  Like teaching my daughter to ride her bike, she needed to know that I was running next to her before she would pedal hard enough to balance by herself.

Like teaching bike riding – you can’t lead communities too hard or too lightly.

To build a community around OpenStack, we (the partners) need to stand up our own capability.  Until we have demonstrated more leadership, Rackspace must cultivate both a community and a market.  This is a challenging role to balance.  While the community wants distributed ownership, the market wants leadership.  Rick’s governance comments are evidence of this struggle and Rick’s move to Cisco is an indication of leadership diversification.

I believe that Rackspace is committed to distributed ownership – we, in the community, need to rise to the challenge!

OpenStack still needs strong leadership from Rackspace because the market needs someone to be accountable for releases and features.  That allows new partners to depend on someone to run beside them while the wobble their way along to independence.  As the community leaders stand up, we’ll see a balanced community emerge.  The challenge is on us to make that happen (and happen quickly).