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OpenStack Governance, Rackspace Stacked

The open source cloud project known as OpenStack has been in the spotlight recently, thanks in part to corporate support from Rackspace. While such support is often necessary for projects like OpenStack, questions remain about the company's role in governing it.

Last week's Cloud Connect event prominently featured the OpenStack initiative. Elsewhere, the OpenStack page asked: "If there are other open source cloud projects, why start a new one?" Problem is, there are two answers on the OpenStack site, one of which makes it clear that Rackspace is driving the OpenStack bus, while the other is more toned down.

Here's the toned down version from the OpenStack FAQ:

We wanted a community where people with similar philosophies about cloud architecture and open-source software can openly collaborate together. We believe in open source, open design, open development and an open community that is fully transparent‹not a cathedral, a bazaar.

Sounds good. Now, here's the corporate Rackspace version from the Project page:

We've been eagerly watching these projects emerge, but unfortunately we've found most of them incapable of dealing with the tremendous scale we require. The one exception we found was the code that powers NASAs Nebula cloud. Rackspace and NASA share similar problems, including the need to manage huge datasets and thousands of instances of compute. With similar philosophies about cloud architecture and open source software, it was an easy decision to combine our projects into one new effort, now called OpenStack.

Which is it? The Rackspace-NASA effort combined into one new project, or an open-source, politically-correct "not a cathedral, a bazaar?"

All initiatives need funding. An effort like OpenOffice needed Sun's sponsorship to succeed; many initiatives have failed because they lacked financial and in-kind support, even if that in-kind support is permission for employees to work on the effort. In many ways, having Rackspace drive OpenStack could mean good news for the pragmatic shepherds of standards-based cloud computing.

But sometimes the balance between corporate support and pro bono is precarious. To wit: Cloud Connect also featured Rackspace Enterprise Strategy VP Andy Schroepfer as a keynote speaker; suddenly Rackspace was not only talking about Rackspace's "fanatical support" for their customers, but also exhibiting "fanatical salesmanship." (Check the #ccevent Twitter stream; the perception was that Schroepfer was over the top, selling from the stage instead of providing key insights for attendees. You can also watch Schrepfer's talk by clicking "play" in the video embedded below.)

Nebula was a carefully conceived and functional NASA effort dating back to 2009, well before the July 2010 announcement that Rackspace would be folding the Nebula technology into the OpenStack effort. The question is will the governance of OpenStack allow the community to steer the project, or will Rackspace exercise domination, acting like Oracle did governing OpenOffice. It's too early to tell; the absorption of Nebula occurred less than a year ago. But the governance of the project policy board, which includes four Rackspace appointees (along with five other elected members), seems a bit Rack-heavy for a project that enthusiastically states: "Backed by Rackspace, NASA, Dell, Citrix, Cisco, Canonical and over 50 other organizations."

Editor's note: The governing board for OpenStack also includes the three project team leads.

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