OpenStack Grows Up And China Notices

In three years, OpenStack has taken the lead in open source for the enterprise cloud. Fall summit scheduled to take place in Hong Kong.

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

July 22, 2013

4 Min Read

When OpenStack uncorks the champagne for its anniversary on Wednesday at OSCON (the Open Source Conference) in Portland, Ore., it doesn't need to cite surviving three tumultuous years or the number of lines of code produced. It will have more qualitative gains to celebrate.

OpenStack is the de facto leader in open source code for the enterprise cloud. It's moved decisively into the lead for the production of both cloud provisioning and management and software-defined networking -- that still loosely defined area of private cloud operations.

OpenStack is downloaded with great regularity as the prototype system for a private cloud. According to founding member and Rackspace's senior VP of private cloud Jim Curry, who spoke to us in an interview prior to the anniversary, the Rackspace release for private cloud has seen 29,000 downloads.

Downloads, however, don't mean much by themselves. What matters is the number of downloads that lead to working implementations. The list of publicly recognized implementers is shorter, but it includes, in addition to Rackspace and HP, such names as Comcast, Paypal and CERN. Also add Best Buy, Fidelity, Bloomberg and a fourth major enterprise user to be announced Thursday.

[ Want to learn more about software-defined networking as part of OpenStack? See OpenStack Grizzly Has SDN Teeth].

It's still too soon to compare OpenStack to Linux, although Openstack adherents are quite fond of doing so. Linux, through hard experience, produced a kernel development process that imposed the discipline of adding only processes or code that complemented what was already there. It's not clear whether OpenStack, with its long list of code contributors, committers and sponsors (many of them competitors with rival agendas) will institute such discipline or drift into feature bloat. I've heard the team leaders say no benevolent dictator – i.e., Linus Torvalds -- is needed at their project. Perhaps not, but some central disciplinary intelligence is needed. With no Torvalds on the scene, it's not clear who's responsible for such discipline at OpenStack. But let's give OpenStack a chance to mature and show us how it addresses the issue.

Likewise, it's hard to get past the simple quantitative measures to see how the new foundation and its development process are really working. We know OpenStack now has over one million lines of code, 231 company members, 238 unique contributors to the Grizzly release, etc. But the project is also taking on a much more international flavor, with members from 121 countries. In fact, the next OpenStack Summit will meet in November in Hong Kong -- the first to take place outside the U.S.

Chinese interest in OpenStack is huge because it opens wide the door to cloud computing. Developers at the Chinese firm Sina, previously contributors to the project, have helped form the China Open Source Cloud League, which adds more contributors to the project, according to Curry.

In addition to its greater international focus, there's another sign of growing OpenStack maturity. Each subproject of OpenStack holds an election every six months among active contributors to decide who should serve as technical lead of the project, a key position. No changes in these posts would suggest that one company's or one faction's influence was sufficient to maintain the same lead indefinitely. For example, early on, Rackspace and Nebula technology execs dominated these positions because Rackspace was a co-founder and organizer, as were the founders of Nebula, who came out of NASA.

In April, Russell Bryant of Red Hat replaced Vishvananda Ishaya of Nebula, who had served as technical lead of the Nova compute project for 2.5 years. In addition, Dan Wendlandt, of the software-defined networking firm Nicira, was the technical lead on the Quantum networking project for a year, with Nicira acting as a major contributor. After Nicira was acquired by VMware, a competitor of OpenStack, Nicira remained a contributor but Wendlandt was replaced by Marshall McClain of Dreamhost. In other words, what might have been a narrow band of leadership reflecting company interests has gradually given way to broader leadership, suggesting a meritocracy of regular elections is at work.

In three years, OpenStack has come a long way in both its internal organization and its acceptance in the world. It'll be up to the company's current management team to achieve additional milestones going forward.

Says Chris Kemp, former CIO of NASA and CEO of OpenStack firm Nebula: "It's hard to find a computer company, with the exception of Amazon, that's not part of OpenStack. It's occupying a huge void that needed to be filled… Everyone agrees, the next 25 years of computing should be open."

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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