Monthly Archives: November 2013

to whom it may concern

I’ve needed to write this for a long time.

I’ve struggled with how to frame everything and what tone would be best.

I would like to believe this could help OpenStack, but I have my doubts that anyone who can do anything will, or they already would have. I would like to think reading this might help someone else, but it might end up just being for me, and I’m ok with that.

For context, I was around when OpenStack was announced at OSCON in 2010 as the VP of Engineering at Cloudscaling. I have experience deploying and operating OpenStack and CloudStack implementations of some significance. I also evaluated Open Nebula, Eucalyptus and Nimbula along the way, as I really wanted a good solution to the cloud problem. I spent time consulting on OpenStack projects and last focused on OpenStack when I was hired by Jesse Andrews at Rackspace, before my whole team left to go to Nebula.

I’ve since moved on to focus on other things, but still watch OpenStack as I have a literal vested interest in the success of the project as well as many friends I care about in the community.

OpenStack was born into a vacuum created by the acceleration of AWS adoption and features, plus missteps by Eucalyptus and CloudStack with respect to the value of Open Source communities and how to cultivate them as a vendor. When OpenStack was first announced, I felt there was so much potential. I certainly made an effort to evangelize the project. Now, while many will declare victory, I’m afraid most of that potential will not be realized or worse, that OpenStack will leave a wake of bad projects that people unwittingly mistake for operable software solutions.

OpenStack has some success stories, but dead projects tell no tales. I have seen no less than 100 Million USD spent on bad OpenStack implementations that will return little or have net negative value.

Some of that has to be put on the ignorance and arrogance of some of the organizations spending that money, but OpenStack’s core competency, above all else, has been marketing and if not culpable, OpenStack has at least been complicit.

My compulsion to record this for posterity was triggered by details in the last release and related chatter around other announcements.

I would like to highlight the ‘graduation’ of Ceilometer. Ceilometer is a tragedy masquerading as a farce. In my opinion, this project should not exist and as it exists should not be relied upon for anything, much less billing customers.

First, the idea that monitoring/metering is something that should be bolted on the side of a cloud is almost as nonsensical as adding on reliability and scalability. Experience operating a web service that has been developed with instrumentation will quickly disavow anyone but a masochist of the bolted on approach. Second, Ceilometer’s implementation is such a mishmash of naive ideas and pipe dreams without regard for corner cases and failure scenarios, that Ceilometer’s association with OpenStack should be seen as a negative and graduation of the project calls into question the literal foundation of OpenStack decision making. Ceilometer’s quality is bad, even by OpenStack standards.

When I was still inclined to take actions about OpenStack related things, when Ceilometer was just a name someone proposed, I made all these same arguments but with more detail, specifics and depth. What I came to understand is that solving metering was not the primary motive. No one really cared about that. Certainly not in the way one would approach a project they intended to deploy and operate. The primary motivation was to have a project so that someone could be a Project Technical Lead (PTL).

That precedent started at the beginning with the creation of Glance, a project that never should have existed, and the subsequent creation of PTLs. The dynamics of the perceived prestige of a PTL superseded other considerations.

This dynamic allowed for a splintering of vision and mandate. If there has been any one thing that I have seen waste time implementing and operating OpenStack, that would have to be trying to coax the disparate OpenStack services, often from the same ‘release’, to work together. Press releases trumpet a new release of OpenStack as if this was working software and the naive ‘Enterprise buyer’ would rush headlong into that assumption hopped up on adrenaline and hubris. I accept Conway’s Law as a truism. Organizations will build software that reflects the communication of the organization. If the people implementing Keystone, don’t respect or understand the people implementing Nova, well, at least there is a PTL…

Don’t get me started on networking or storage…

I used to be hopeful, evangelistic even, about the possibility of a cloud service provider ecosystem built on open source. Now I am quite skeptical and feel that opportunity may be lost. Not that OpenStack doesn’t work, or at least that it can’t be made to, given certain competence and constraints, but that OpenStack doesn’t have the coherence or the will to do more than compromise itself for politics and vanity metrics.

People contribute to projects for a variety of reasons. OpenStack releases like to highlight the number of committers. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s not necessarily a good thing either. How many engineers do you think are working on AWS? GCE? How many of those committers will be the ones responsible for the performance and failure characteristics of their code? How many of those committers are dedicated to producing a world class service bent on dominating an industry? There has been some interesting, and even impressive work dedicated to improve code reviews and continuous integration, but that should not be confused with a unified vision and purpose. The per project difference in emphasis and the focus on nuances of stylistic python over other considerations of quality, let alone architecture and failure conditions determine OpenStack’s present and future. OpenStack wants to differentiate with features going up the stack, but has still not solved the foundational infrastructure and is busy furiously discussing what should be considered ‘core’. Projects that prove to be unreliable and a poor experience for operators and users ultimately damage the OpenStack ‘brand’.

OpenStack loves to declare its own victory. OpenStack’s biggest success has been getting vendors excited about abdicating their cloud strategy in lieu of going it alone. As long as OpenStack succeeds at that, there will be no shortage of funds for a foundation, summits and parties. Ultimately, if that is OpenStack’s primary accomplishment, Amazon (and perhaps others) will run away with the user driven adoption as service providers until there is nothing left of OpenStack but bespoke clouds and mailing list dramas.

I’m not sure anyone wants my advice at this point, but here it is.

  • Focus on users, not vendors. If there can’t be a benevolent dictator, there has to be an overriding conscience. The project setup solves vendor political problems more than user software problems.
  • PTLs end up being trophies. Electing PTLs every cycle is distracting and impacts continuity. Everything about this hurts OpenStack. Don’t confuse the way things are being done with the best way to do them.
  • Define a core and stick to it, or acknowledge that your governance is broken and make OpenStack an explicit free for all.
  • Stop declaring victory with vanity metrics. Divide OpenStack google trends number by the number of marketing dollars spent. The total number of committers is less meaningful if OpenStack is an excuse to sponsor parties around a collection of disparate projects.
  • Make ‘OpenStack’ brand mean something to users. Stewardship is greater than governance. If OpenStack is just a trough for the old guard IT vendors to feed slop to their existing enterprise buyers without regard to the technology or user experience then OpenStack has completely lost the plot. Make ‘OpenStack’ mean something and defend that.

I’ve certainly exceeded my 0.02 limit. Do what you will.

To all my friends at the OpenStack Summit, enjoy what Hong Kong has to offer… 幹杯.

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