Why Fork Docker? Complexity Wack-a-Mole and Commercial Open Source

Monday, The New Stack broke news about a possible fork of the Docker Engine and prominently quoted me saying “Docker consistently breaks backend compatibility.”  The technical instability alone is not what’s prompting industry leaders like Google, Red Hat and Huawei to take drastic and potentially risky community action in a central project.

So what’s driving a fork?  It’s the intersection of Cash, Complexity and Community.

hamsterIn fact, I’d warned about this risk over a year ago: Docker is both a core infrastucture technology (the docker container runner, aka Docker Engine) and a commercial company that manages the Docker brand.  The community formed a standard, runC, to try and standardize; however, Docker continues to deviate from (or innovate faster) that base.

It’s important for me to note that we use Docker tools and technologies heavily.  So far, I’ve been a long-time advocate and user of Docker’s innovative technology.  As such, we’ve also had to ride the rapid release roller coaster.

Let’s look at what’s going on here in three key areas:

1. Cash

The expected monetization of containers is the multi-system orchestration and support infrastructure.  Since many companies look to containers as leading the disruptive next innovation wave, the idea that Docker is holding part of their plans hostage is simply unacceptable.

So far, the open source Docker Engine has been simply included without payment into these products.  That changed in version 1.12 when Docker co-mingled their competitive Swarm product into the Docker Engine.  That effectively forces these other parties to advocate and distribute their competitors product.

2. Complexity

When Docker added cool Swarm Orchestration features into the v1.12 runtime, it added a lot of complexity too.  That may be simple from a “how many things do I have to download and type” perspective; however, that single unit is now dragging around a lot more code.

In one of the recent comments about this issue, Bob Wise bemoaned the need for infrastructure to be boring.  Even as we look to complex orchestration like Swarm, Kubernetes, Mesos, Rancher and others to perform application automation magic, we also need to reduce complexity in our infrastructure layers.

Along those lines, operators want key abstractions like containers to be as simple and focused as possible.  We’ve seen similar paths for virtualization runtimes like KVM, Xen and VMware that focus on delivering a very narrow band of functionality very well.  There is a lot of pressure from people building with containers to have a similar experience from the container runtime.

This approach both helps operators manage infrastructure and creates a healthy ecosystem of companies that leverage the runtimes.

Note: My company, RackN, believes strongly in this need and it’s a core part of our composable approach to automation with Digital Rebar.

3. Community

Multi-vendor open source is a very challenging and specialized type of community.  In these communities, most of the contributors are paid by companies with a vested (not necessarily transparent) interest in the project components.  If the participants of the community feel that they are not being supported by the leadership then they are likely to revolt.

Ultimately, the primary difference between Docker and a fork of Docker is the brand and the community.  If there companies paying the contributors have the will then it’s possible to move a whole community.  It’s not cheap, but it’s possible.

Developers vs Operators

One overlooked aspect of this discussion is the apparent lock that Docker enjoys on the container developer community.  The three Cs above really focus on the people with budgets (the operators) over the developers.  For a fork to succeed, there needs to be a non-Docker set of tooling that feeds the platform pipeline with portable application packages.

In Conclusion…

The world continues to get more and more heterogeneous.  We already had multiple container runtimes before Docker and the idea of a new one really is not that crazy right now.  We’ve already got an explosion of container orchestration and this is a reflection of that.

My advice?  Worry less about the container format for now and focus on automation and abstractions.

 

OpenStack Interop, Container Security, Install & Open Source Posts

In case you missed it, I posted A LOT of content this week on other sites covering topics for OpenStack Interop, Container Security, Anti-Universal Installers and Monetizing Open Source.  Here are link-bait titles & blurbs from each post so you can decide which topics pique your interest.

Thirteen Ways Containers are More Secure than Virtual Machines on TheNewStack.com

Last year, conventional wisdom had it that containers were much less secure than virtual machines (VMs)! Since containers have such thin separating walls; it was easy to paint these back door risks with a broad brush.  Here’s a reality check: Front door attacks and unpatched vulnerabilities are much more likely than these backdoor hacks.

It’s Time to Slay the Universal Installer Unicorn on DevOps.com 

While many people want a universal “easy button installer,” they also want it to work on their unique snowflake of infrastructures, tools, networks and operating systems.  Because there is so much needful variation and change, it is better to give up on open source projects trying to own an installer and instead focus on making their required components more resilient and portable.

King of the hill? Discussing practical OpenStack interoperability on OpenStack SuperUser

Can OpenStack take the crown as cloud king? In our increasingly hybrid infrastructure environment, the path to the top means making it easier to user to defect from the current leaders (Amazon AWS; VMware) instead of asking them to blaze new trails. Here are my notes from a recent discussion about that exact topic…

Have OpenSource, Will Profit?! 5 thoughts from Battery Ventures OSS event on RobHirschfeld.com

As “open source eats software” the profit imperative becomes ever more important to figure out.  We have to find ways to fund this development or acknowledge that software will simply become waste IP and largess from mega brands.  The later outcome is not particularly appealing or innovative.

Have OpenSource, Will Profit?! 5 thoughts from Battery Ventures OSS event

As “open source eats software” the profit imperative becomes ever more important to figure out.  We have to find ways to fund this development or acknowledge that software will simply become waste IP and largess from mega brands.  The later outcome is not particularly appealing or innovative.

wp-1465310489656.jpgLast week, Battery Ventures hosted a “Venture and Open Source Software (OSS)” event that crystallized several key points around OSS business models.  The speakers (really, check out the list!) were deeply experienced with thoughtful points that reflected a balanced perspective.  In those post, I’m trying to synthesize rather than give attribution.  Please review the vibrant #BVOSS twitter stream for specific quotes and pictures.

There is no valuation difference between for OSS and Proprietary.  OSS is a business model, you are running a software company.  

It’s hard to monetize a company with OSS.  While there are limited IPO benchmarks; the model is clearly being adopted deeply.  It’s also not clear if it’s better to be the primary driver for a project or to ride a larger effort.

Should companies avoid OSS?  It’s hard to monetize any idea – OSS is not a deciding factor.  At the end of the day, it seemed pretty clear that open source strategies are simply a new components of building software companies.

Big companies are willing to fund OSS projects (but late in the cycle).

Companies are recognized that they have a role to play in open source by funding projects.  They do this to ensure the project is sustained, maintain influence and ensure road map direction.  It’s often via support contracts.

This influence appears to be late in the OSS cycle.  It’s not clear how companies invest in early phases of development that are critical to start-up success.  In my daily business, I’d love to see companies set aside low-barrier $20-100k exploration funds to seed PoCs so that early stage projects could afford to hand-hold enterprise adopters.

I can think of many examples where the project is effectively spun out of other corporate or consulting efforts (including RackN core OSS IP, Digital Rebar).  IMHO, it’s less common to have an organic OSS company.

OSS companies need to hold something back to monetize.

This point was made emphatically multiple times.  Customers do not fund OSS projects out of good will, some hook is needed to entice payment.  It does not take much (Marten Mickos called it a pinch of salt) but having something was considered important.  Generally these are extras that are needed for advanced or scale users.

While this approach draws negative comments, the “open core” approach seemed to be the expectation from the room.  An all-things-open approach would result in trying to sell consulting services as the primary revenue model – this is generally not considered an attractive venture strategy for start-ups.

OSS value to the business increases with ubiquity/popularity of the project.

This may be obvious; however, an effective OSS model needs to have community validation.  The concept is that there is some conversion ratio, so having users makes up for a poor ratio.  Overall, the room assumed that community was a good thing.

I can think of cases where having a HUGE user base did not immediately translate into monetization.  In some cases (OpenStack, Docker), it translated into a large ecosystem and brisk competition.

As a Service (Hosted OSS) may be critical monetization path.

It was recognized that service providers (Amazon was the goat here) are doing a very robust job monetizing OSS.  For example, users pay significant premiums for MySQL hosted by RDS while they are much less willing to pay Oracle when they run it themselves.  It’s very clear that managed service models rely on cheap software.

It’s equally clear that users are willing to pay for services when they are reluctant to buy licenses.  The room felt that OSS companies should seriously evaluate this path to revenue and adoption.

Overall, it was a fantastic summit that left me, as a OSS start-up entrepreneur,  thinking carefully about how we are shaping businesses to create and exploit OSS.  Getting these models right is essential to maintaining our pace of innovation.

We need DevOps without Borders! Is that “Hybrid DevOps?”

The RackN team has been working on making DevOps more portable for over five years.  Portable between vendors, sites, tools and operating systems means that our automation needs be to hybrid in multiple dimensions by design.

Why drive for hybrid?  It’s about giving users control.

launch!I believe that application should drive the infrastructure, not the reverse.  I’ve heard may times that the “infrastructure should be invisible to the user.”  Unfortunately, lack of abstraction and composibility make it difficult to code across platforms.  I like the term “fidelity gap” to describe the cost of these differences.

What keeps DevOps from going hybrid?  Shortcuts related to platform entangled configuration management.

Everyone wants to get stuff done quickly; however, we make the same hard-coded ops choices over and over again.  Big bang configuration automation that embeds sequence assumptions into the script is not just technical debt, it’s fragile and difficult to upgrade or maintain.  The problem is not configuration management (that’s a critical component!), it’s the lack of system level tooling that forces us to overload the configuration tools.

What is system level tooling?  It’s integrating automation that expands beyond configuration into managing sequence (aka orchestration), service orientation, script modularity (aka composibility) and multi-platform abstraction (aka hybrid).

My ops automation experience says that these four factors must be solved together because they are interconnected.

What would a platform that embraced all these ideas look like?  Here is what we’ve been working towards with Digital Rebar at RackN:

Mono-Infrastructure IT “Hybrid DevOps”
Locked into a single platform Portable between sites and infrastructures with layered ops abstractions.
Limited interop between tools Adaptive to mix and match best-for-job tools.  Use the right scripting for the job at hand and never force migrate working automation.
Ad hoc security based on site specifics Secure using repeatable automated processes.  We fail at security when things get too complex change and adapt.
Difficult to reuse ops tools Composable Modules enable Ops Pipelines.  We have to be able to interchange parts of our deployments for collaboration and upgrades.
Fragile Configuration Management Service Oriented simplifies API integration.  The number of APIs and services is increasing.  Configuration management is not sufficient.
 Big bang: configure then deploy scripting Orchestrated action is critical because sequence matters.  Building a cluster requires sequential (often iterative) operations between nodes in the system.  We cannot build robust deployments without ongoing control over order of operations.

Should we call this “Hybrid Devops?”  That sounds so buzz-wordy!

I’ve come to believe that Hybrid DevOps is the right name.  More technical descriptions like “composable ops” or “service oriented devops” or “cross-platform orchestration” just don’t capture the real value.  All these names fail to capture the portability and multi-system flavor that drives the need for user control of hybrid in multiple dimensions.

Simply put, we need devops without borders!

What do you think?  Do you have a better term?

OpenStack Shared Community Values? Here’s my seven, let’s compare

The recent discussion about OpenStack API vs Implementation had led to several discussions about “OpenStack Values.”  While entertaining, they ultimately show that we have a lot of conflicting desires and opinions about the project.  In fact, the term “values” is itself hard to define.

Consequently, I wanted to try to capture what I see as OpenStack’s current values (not my personal ones for the project – those are in the post script). I’ve tried to put everything in positive terms, but value choices always have positive and negative impacts.

Rank Value Provides Possible Downsides
1 Upstreaming Share code base and community effort “First in” wins

Latest over stability

Measure value in commits

2 Vendor’s taking initiative Broad Participation

Free marketing buzz

No one wants to say no because of Vendor bias perception
3 End-to-end open source No licenses required for scale users and developers Build, don’t buy wastes a lot of effort

Does not align with users who want to pay for services

4 Developer leadership Lots of code being created Not many user requirements being considered
5 Figuring out API via implementation Fast iterations Frustrating APIs

API depreciation

6 Passionate discussion Diversity of opinion

Drama attracts attention

“Unfriendly” community

Loudest voice wins

Cross culture challenges

7 Being able to contribute broadly Generally maintainable platform Deep skills in subject matters

Best tool for the job

In my experience, if you don’t align with a communities values then you’re going to be very unhappy in the community.  I’ve watched this happen to project founders and the community changed around them.  Let’s all RAGE QUIT!

So, this makes me reflect on my own open source values. I’d start with pragmatic utility, transparent action, principle driven decisions, iterative design and data driven decisions.

What do you value most in open communities?

APIs and Implementations collide at OpenStack Interop: The Oracle Zones vs VMs Debate

I strive to stay neutral as OpenStack DefCore co-chair; however, as someone asking for another Board term, it’s important to review my thinking so that you can make an informed voting decision.

DefCore, while always on the edge of controversy, recently became ground zero for the “what is OpenStack” debate [discussion write up]. My preferred small core “it’s an IaaS product” answer is only one side. Others favor “it’s an open cloud community” while another faction champions an “open cloud platform.” I’m struggling to find a way that it can be all together at the same time.

The TL;DR is that, today, OpenStack vendors are required to implement a system that can run Linux guests. This is an example of an implementation over API bias because there’s nothing in the API that drives that specific requirement.

From a pragmatic “get it done” perspective, OpenStack needs to remain implementation driven for now. That means that we care that “OpenStack” clouds run VMs.

While there are pragmatic reasons for this, I think that long term success will require OpenStack to become an API specification. So today’s “right answer” actually undermines the long term community value. This has been a long standing paradox in OpenStack.

Breaking the API to implementation link allows an ecosystem to grow with truly alternate implementations (not just plug-ins). This is a threat to the community “upstream first” mentality.  OpenStack needs to be confident enough in the quality and utility of the shared code base that it can allow competitive implementations. Open communities should not need walls to win but they do need clear API definition.

What is my posture for this specific issue?  It’s complicated.

First, I think that the user and ecosystem expectations are being largely ignored in these discussions. Many of the controversial items here are vendor initiatives, not user needs. Right now, I’ve heard clearly that those expectations are for OpenStack to be an IaaS the runs VMs. OpenStack really needs to focus on delivering a reliably operable VM based IaaS experience. Until that’s solid, the other efforts are vendor noise.

Second, I think that there are serious test gaps that jeopardize the standard. The fundamental premise of DefCore is that we can use the development tests for API and behavior validation. We chose this path instead of creating an independent test suite. We either need to address tests for interop within the current body of tests or discuss splitting the efforts. Both require more investment than we’ve been willing to make.

We have mechanisms in place to collects data from test results and expand the test base.  Instead of creating new rules or guidelines, I think we can work within the current framework.

The simple answer would be to block non-VM implementations; however, I trust that cloud consumers will make good decisions when given sufficient information.  I think we need to fix the tests and accept non-VM clouds if they pass the corrected tests.

For this and other reasons, I want OpenStack vendors to be specific about the configurations that they test and support. We took steps to address this in DefCore last year but pulled back from being specific about requirements.  In this particular case, I believe we should require the official OpenStack vendor to state clear details about their supported implementation.  Customers will continue vote with their wallet about which configuration details are important.

This is a complex issue and we need community input.  That means that we need to hear from you!  Here’s the TC Position and the DefCore Patch.

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?