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OpenStack Fights Cloud Lock-In Worries

Jonathan Bryce, new OpenStack Foundation executive director, explains how the cloud project takes a democratic approach to win support for its open source work.

Jonathan Bryce may have started out as implementer of the original Mosso Cloud in San Antonio that became the Rackspace Cloud. But the new executive director of the OpenStack Foundation said the OpenStack open source project is the best way to avoid getting locked into a cloud vendor's operations.

The OpenStack project's claim that it will continue to provide freely available software is backed up by the project's overseeing body, the OpenStack Foundation, Bryce said in an interview on the opening day of Cloud Expo in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday. While it is based on its Linux and Apache predecessors, Bryce said the OpenStack Foundation offers an advanced example of open source governance.

The foundation has a 24-member board of directors that attempts to create a balance among the competing interests that make up OpenStack membership. It is composed of eight platinum members who pay $500,000 a year ($1.5 million total) for a three-year term. They include IBM, Rackspace, HP and Nebula.

They are accompanied by eight gold members, who contribute between $50,000 and $200,000 a year (determined by a percentage of the companies' revenues) for a one-year membership. If a firm pulls in less than $200 million a year, its dues will be at the low end of the spectrum, Bryce explained. That gives smaller companies that are making important contributions a chance to become members of the board alongside the better established companies.

[ Want to learn more about how OpenStack is becoming a central source of cloud innovation? See OpenStack Poised For Cloud Leadership. ]

To get a seat on the board, you have to do more than pay for a gold membership. While there will only be eight platinum members (even if others wish to pay the $500,000 fee), up to 24 firms may become gold members. The total increased last week as French company Enovance, paid up and became the 14th gold member. No matter how many gold members there are, only eight may sit on the board at any one time, an issue resolved by an election among them.

To better reflect more participants in the project, an additional eight board members are drawn from the ranks of individual members, who join for free and include many of the developers who contribute code or code reviews. Eight representatives are elected from 6,024 members.

Bryce, in his early 30s, was hired two months ago from Rackspace to serve as executive director of the OpenStack Foundation. He was previously busy building partnerships and developing business for the Rackspace public cloud and laughs that becoming executive director was not a career move he had in mind when he started planning Mosso.

"As I thought about (the executive director post), it kind of made sense. OpenStack needed to make a transition away from Rackspace, but there was a lot going on and it was important that there be some continuity," he said in an interview. Mark Collier, former VP of business development and marketing at Rackspace, serves as COO of the foundation.

The OpenStack project has grown from 20 developers producing 60,000 lines of code, when NASA and Rackspace first formed OpenStack two years ago, to 600 developers who have produced 600,000 lines of code. A lot can go wrong with that big a project and that many developers if you don't get good governance in place, Bryce noted.

In addition to the board of directors, there is a Technical Committee -- separate from the board of directors -- responsible for OpenStack's development direction. It consists of the technical leads of seven separate OpenStack technical projects, plus Thierry Carrez, OpenStack release manager and former release manager for Canonical's Ubuntu Linux releases.

Carrez keeps the project coordinated and on schedule. The latest Essex release, for example, required the completion of 185 features by 400 code contributors. Rushing code into a release or holding a release as developers try to get a feature right can lead to disputes over whether code is ready and who's responsible if it isn't. It's Carrez's job to plan a schedule and minimize that.

OpenStack appears to be a more advanced or more modern open source project than some of its predecessors because it's a highly coordinated effort, but has no single, benevolent dictator, such as Linus Torvalds, as the final decision maker. Carrez has to coordinate code development among seven project managers and shoot for a release date close to the next OpenStack design summit. They occur twice a year.

Bryce must coordinate a budget, summit organization, legal resources and other day-to-day affairs, while ensuring the development teams have what they need. The development teams are the key to OpenStack's rapid progress, he said, and he wants to see them keep up their pace of innovation. It will make it hard for a private firm or other open source team to take the initiative away from the project.

Those teams must function smoothly for that to happen, and OpenStack has implemented another democratic feature into the project's governance. The technical project team leaders, who "make who should develop what" decisions and determine whether code is ready to be committed to the core build, must stand for election every six months.

Open source projects claim to be meritocracies, but Linux was developed with Linus Torvalds selecting a small group of compatible lieutenants to help him manage the kernel development process. OpenStack's leadership relies on groups and elected bodies, with each technical project periodically electing its own leader.

"It's a little more sophisticated. If [project team leaders] are not making the call, not deciding what's in and what's out, then the project won't move forward quickly," Bryce said. The test is whether the teams produce quality code within the release schedule, and keep doing so. So far, so good, he said.

Part of the coordination issue is the fact that developers, commenters and testers of code come from 87 different countries. "One of the really exciting things about OpenStack is how quickly it's become an international project," said Bryce, with much support coming from European countries who don't want their cloud users to have to send their data to mainly U.S. suppliers. It's an additional driver to produce code quickly but keep the process open to all comers, he said.

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