Programmer Thoughts

By John Dickinson

Thoughts after the OpenStack Juno Summit

May 26, 2014

A week out of the OpenStack Juno summit, it’s time to reflect, focus, and move forward in the community. I’ve been involved in OpenStack since it began—I was on the Cloud Files team at Rackspace that originally wrote Swift—and I’ve seen the community and ecosystem grow dramatically over the last four years. What began as a group of about 20 has now become thousands.

There is no end to articles by tech journalists and pundits declaring that OpenStack will be successful, if only XYZ, where the blank is filled in by something that the author really likes. Of course these articles lead to response articles, blogs, and twitter snipes that basically say, “Yes, but ABC”. And nobody is all wrong, nobody is all right, and nobody really understands all the moving parts. All the voices put together leave me with two distinct impressions. First, OpenStack has hundreds of voices pulling it in all directions. Yet in spite of all the discordant voices (or perhaps because of them), there is a great sense of progress. Second, OpenStack is an idea that really captures the imagination, and what we’ve seen so far is just the beginning.

As someone who has been to more OpenStack events than most, this OpenStack summit felt different. We’ve marked a turning point in the community. Ryan Floyd (disclaimer: Ryan is an investor in SwiftStack, my employer) recently wrote about this turning point as the end of the beginning. Others have written that it is the beginning of the end. See? Discordant voices.

I tend to agree with Ryan’s view. When OpenStack started, it consisted of two distinct groups: developers and biz devs. This makeup allowed for technical progress and corporate partnerships between unlikely allies, both of which we’ve seen many times in the last four years. One group missing from the original makeup of OpenStack is product managers. As such, we’ve never seen a cohesive “single product” focus within the community.

There has been a vacuum in the OpenStack community of actual products around OpenStack. This OpenStack summit clearly demonstrated to me that the product gap is being filled by the community, and that gives me a lot of hope for the future. This is why I agree with Ryan that OpenStack is moving from the “beginning” and into something more substantial.

So I’m hopeful. OpenStack has captured the imagination of thousands. Four years on, it looks like our hard work may someday soon be an overnight success. As a community we’ve got a lot to be proud of.

But we need to be cautious too. Our “success” thus far doesn’t mean we’ll continue to be successful. We need to be very cognizant of the fact that we are still a very small community. We can’t be enamored by our own success in our own small bubble. I believe OpenStack is on the leading edge of the industry, but that implies there are a lot of people who still don’t know what OpenStack is or how it can benefit them.

We’ve got some serious challenges to overcome in the months and years ahead. From a technology perspective, we need to figure out how to deliver quality software that provides value beyond “glue layer to proprietary system”.

We also need to look to the health of the contributor community and figure out how to lower barriers to participating. We need to figure out how to accept patches from one-time contributors, and we need to figure out how to incorporate feedback from non-developers.

On the community side, we’ve got a massive amount of education to do. We’ve got a ton of work to do in making OpenStack projects easy to install and maintain. We’ve got to figure out how to keep OpenStack a “thing” that means something when end-users come across it.

We’re making improvements on all of these, but we’ve got more to do. We can’t get comfortable with where we are. We must remember that OpenStack is only useful when it’s actually deployed and running in production, therefore we must always keep deployers in mind.

I’m excited to see how the community has grown, and I’m excited by the potential of the future.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

The thoughts expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer.