OpenStack's (long) march toward an open foundation

Rackspace needs to beef up OpenStack's competitiveness and support before thinking about a foundation

Much has been written about the importance of foundations versus single-vendor-controlled open source projects, yet there's been little focus on the gradual shift that often occurs between these two ends of the open source project spectrum. Specifically, the OpenStack project is being asked to accelerate its transition into a foundation-led project -- maybe too soon.

Rackspace struggles with control versus influence

The OpenStack open source project aims to deliver "a massively scalable cloud operating system." OpenStack was launched with great fanfare eight months ago, with the participation of more than 50 organizations, including Rackspace, NASA, Dell, Cisco Systems, and Canonical.

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However, Rick Clark, a Rackspace lead on the OpenStack project, raised some eyebrows when he announced his departure from Rackspace to join Cisco. Clark has many complimentary comments about Rackspace and the OpenStack project itself, but felt that the Cisco opportunity was too good to pass up. However, he also relates frustration with how the OpenStack is being managed.

Clark states "that Rackspace is trying to control OpenStack rather than influence it." Clark provides some examples of Rackspace making decisions behind closed doors regarding the OpenStack project. Clark doesn't necessarily disagree with the end result of Rackspace's calls, but his concern centers on the fact that Rackspace can make these choices without community input in the first place. Although he says Rackspace is doing right by the OpenStack project today, Clark asks, "What happens if Rackspace is under new management -- say, Oracle, for example?"

Clark proposes that Rackspace put the OpenStack project under the watch of an open source foundation. Rackspace would lose control of the project, but would more than likely retain its influence, considering the amount of code and ongoing investment Rackspace would bring to the community.

The notion of influence versus control is not a new one; Simon Phipps, ex-chief open source officer at Sun, writes:

In my experience, attempting to retain control of a project you're starting or hosting leads to mistrust, contention, and a rules-based focus that diminishes your reputation. Relaxing control will lead to the community innovating and growing in ways you've not anticipated, as well as enhancing your reputation. As I've frequently said (although less frequently been heeded): Trade control for influence, because in a meshed society control gets marginalized while influence delivers success.

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