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OpenStack Leaving Home: Foundation Coming in 2012

OpenStack is going to be taking another major step in open governance next year. According to Rackspace, the time has come to form an OpenStack Foundation. Rackspace president Lew Moorman will be discussing an OpenStack Founation during the “state of the union talk” tomorrow at the OpenStack Conference in Boston.

Why now? Today I spoke with Rackspace’s Mark Collier and Jonathan Bryce, and their response was that now is the time given the level of contributions from other companies.

Influence, Not Control

Bryce, chairman of the project policy board, said that it’s been talked about since the beginning. However, the fact that the last milestone release had 12 features from eight companies in the OpenStack project showed that OpenStack is “a living, breathing thing, not dependent on any one company.”

The company has taken some criticism about heavy-handed governance while OpenStack was maturing. Rick Clark, one of the founding members of the Rackspace team guiding OpenStack, voiced concerns about Rackspace’s control of the project when he left the company for Cisco. Clark, who took pains to make clear that he felt Rackspace meant the best for the project, said he was still concerned that Rackspace was controlling rather than influencing OpenStack. “Rackspace has a choice to make; they can try to control the project and eventually fail, or they choose to influence it and succeed.”

Jonathan Bryce Talks Rackspace Governance Earlier This Year

It looks like, ultimately, Rackspace is choosing influence over control.

It’s worth noting that Rackspace has gotten pretty strong positives from many in the OpenStack community on its management of the project. Piston Cloud Computing’s CEO, Joshua McKenty said, “Rackspace has done an amazing job of shepherding this open source project through its infancy, and they have gradually handed off many of the

responsibilities for OpenStack to the broader community. The role of an OpenStack Foundation will be to manage the last of those responsibilities.”

McKenty also said that OpenStack has always functioned as a meritocracy. “I think the most fundamental marker of that will be over the coming months – when we see that this next step in the management and organization of the project has almost no impact on the day-to-day functioning of the community, which has relied on merit and so-called ‘lazy consensus’ since its inception.”

Leaving Home

With OpenStack nearly ready to leave the nest, does Rackspace have any regrets? Collier said that the company had “absolutely no regrets,” and that the project had actually been “nothing but positive” for Rackspace.

Before, Collier says that companies would plan strategy and come to Rackspace when they decided they needed third-party hosting. Now? Collier says that companies bring Rackspace in to discuss transforming their IT, automating processes, and so on. “It’s a much higher level conversation.”

Structure Still Unresolved

Collier said that Rackspace will be transitioning the trademark and other intellectual property to a foundation, but the actual makeup of the foundation is still up in the air. One key consideration, said Collier, is ensuring that the foundation has resources on par or better than what is currently provided by Rackspace. “We have a rough idea what resources are needed, the last thing we’d want to do is turn OpenStack over to an underfunded entity.”

Beyond that, though, Bryce said that the structure for the foundation is to be determined. Why not set up the project with existing foundations, like Apache? Bryce said that it makes sense to have a standalone foundation that’s “more like a tightly focused Apache foundation.”

“OpenStack is made up of very closely related projects that make up a cloud operating system. There’s tight coherence around release schedules, integration points, important things to maintain. It makes sense to have something that’s just focused on OpenStack because of the tight integration around a broad set of technologies.”

We’ll be watching the foundation formation with great interest. How the project is staffed and funded are going to be crucial to its success. It will be interesting to see how much of the current Rackspace staff that’s tasked with OpenStack transitions to the foundation, and where new blood comes from as well.

But generally, this looks like a good move. OpenStack has evolved very, very quickly. Mistakes have been made, but not fatal ones. What do you think? What suggestions do you have for the OpenStackers as the project moves towards more independence?

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