OpenStack Foundation requires further definition

For outsiders, the major news of interest from this week’s OpenStack conference in Boston was the announcement of an OpenStack Foundation. I attended the conference yesterday where the official announcement was made, and tried to find out more about the move. But this will be a short posting because there’s not much to say. The thinness of detail about the Foundation is probably a good sign, because it means that Rackspace and its partners are seeking input from the community about important parameters.

OpenStack is going to be the universal cloud platform of the future. This is assured by the huge backing and scads of funding from major companies, both potential users and vendors. (Dell and HP had big presences at the show.) Even if the leadership flubs a few things, the backers will pick them up, dust them off, and propel them on their way forward.

But the leadership has made some flubs–just the garden-variety types made by other leaders of other open source projects that are not so fortunate (or unfortunate) to be under such a strong spotlight. Most of the attendees expressed the view that the project, barely a year old, just needs to mature a bit and get through its awkward adolescent phase.

The whole premise of OpenStack is freedom from vendor lock-in. So Rackspace knew its stewardship had to come to an end. One keynoter today suggested that OpenStack invite seasoned leaders from other famous foundations taking the helm of free software projects–Apache, Mozilla, Linux, GNOME–to join its board and give it sage advice. But OpenStack is in a unique position. These other projects had a few years to achieve code stability and gather a robust community before becoming the intense objects of desire among major corporations who, although they undoubtedly benefited the projects, brought competing agendas. OpenStack got the corporate attention first.

It’s also making a pilgrimage into a land dominated by giants such as Amazon.com, VMware, and Microsoft. Interestingly, the people at this conference expressed less concern about the competition presented by those companies than the ambiguous love expressed by companies with complicated relationships to OpenStack, notably Red Hat.

Will the OpenStack Foundation control the code or just manage the business side of the project? How will it attract developers and build community? What role do governments play, given that cloud computing raises substantial regulatory issues? I heard lots of questions like these, all apparently to be decided in the months to come. As one attendee said at the governance forum, “Let’s not talk here about details, but about how we’re going to talk about details.”

And a colleague said to me afterward, “It’s exciting to be in at the start of something big.” I agree, but other than saying it’s big, we don’t know much about it.

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