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Rackspace accused of 'controlling' open source cloud project

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Rackspace's chief OpenStacker has quit the company, saying the 'Linux-of-the-cloud' initiative is not functioning properly as a community project and that it deserves full independence from Rackspace.

After just 18 months with Rackspace, OpenStack chief architect Rick Clark has left the company for Cisco, accusing his ex-employer of exerting undue control over the open source project. Clark was hired from Ubuntu shop Canonical in 2009 to apply his knowledge of technology and community-building to the OpenStack project, which Rackspace announced with NASA in July 2010. At Cisco, he will continue to work on OpenStack.

"Rackspace is primarily full of good people trying to do the right thing," he said. "I don’t see evil intentions anywhere. Even though I left, I still want Rackspace and OpenStack to succeed. In fact, I think the industry needs them to succeed.

"I think that Rackspace needs to make some changes to ensure that success. I left because I had a great opportunity at Cisco, and because I was not able to effectively lobby for those changes from the inside. So, I will try to do so from the outside."

OpenStack did not respond in detail to Clark's allegations, but it did provided a brief statement. "We've received positive feedback on the recent governance changes, with elections happening now," the company said. "Code contributions continue to flow in from around the globe as we work toward the third release (Cactus) April 14, followed by the second public Design Summit, April 26 - 29.

"With new developers and organizations joining and investing in the project every day, collaboration has never been stronger."

Rackspace is famous for web hosting, but it has little experience running a major open-source software project. With a blog post, Clark said that Rackspace is "controlling" rather than "influencing" the OpenStack, that the project lacks transparency, and that the community around it is not functioning properly. The community, he said, is just a list of partners.

According to Clark, Rackspace has two choices: continue to use a heavy hand with a project that lists more than 50 companies as members and fail or relinquish control of OpenStack and succeed. Clark held up recent changes to the project's governance structure as a perfect example of Rackspace's attempts to control OpenStack.

"Basically, Rackspace made governance changes without talking to the development community or the sitting governance board. This is extremely problematic for the health of the project," Clark wrote on his blog.

"If Rackspace can make this kind of unilateral move now, what is to stop them from doing it again, if the governance does not suit them. There should be no change in governance without the current governance board approving it. This is necessary for the governance to have any validity. The sad thing here, is that the governing body would have probably approved it with only minor changes. The changes are for the most part good, but the process shows a serious flaw in Rackspace's thinking."

The governance changes were announced earlier this month after The Reg broke the news that Rackspace had bought the other major force behind OpenStack: Anso Labs.

Anso contributed the half of the OpenStack architecture - the Nova compute fabric – with Rackspace providing the storage component. After acquiring Anso, Rackspace controlled most of the seats on OpenStack's Project Oversight Committee.

Rackspace sought to sooth concerns over its growing control by expanding the number of seats on a renamed committee - it's now the Project Policy Board - to 12, with eight elected by the community and four appointed. At the time, Clark criticized way in which the board was expanded.

Sebastian Stadil, CEO of open source cloud-management outfit Scalr and the founder of the Silicon Valley Cloud Computing Group, who has been heavily involved in Openstack, applauded the change. "Rackspace was aware enough of the concern to act on it," he told The Reg at the time. "That's good."

But according to Clark, the way the change in governance was cooked up flies in the face of the promise of openness he made to the community when OpenStack started last summer.

Clarke said OpenStack would adhere to a list of "four opens" at the O'Reilly Open Source Conference (OSCON). Clark expanded on that commitment with a post to the OpenStack wiki, promising all project meetings would be held in public IRC channels and recorded.

"I promised that all project meetings would be done in the open and recorded," he wrote.

"To use the governance changes as an example again, where are the open discussions? One can only assume that private meetings were held to discuss and decide these changes, before they were released on the community. As a project we have to live up to the promises we make. Everything that involves the community should be publicly discussed and debated."

Clarke appears to think Rackspace has the power to make further changes to OpenStack. At the time of the governance change earlier this month, he suggested that there's nothing to stop Rackspace deciding to change the governance process again or to stop the company unilaterally removing the governance board without a vote from the community.

Rackspace is helped by the weakness of the OpenStack community, he said in a blog post after leaving the company. "Community is not a list of partners," he wrote. "In fact, the participation of most of the companies listed on the OpenStack community webpage started and ended with a press release."

To fix this, Clark said, OpenStack should be turned into an independent, not-for-profit foundation similar to the Linux Foundation. He even raised the spectre of what might happen to OpenStack should, say, Oracle buy Rackspace. Oracle has flipped off the communities participating in the open-source projects run by the former Sun Microsystems. Because it owns the trademarks to the projects, it has been able shift the direction of the projects so they serve Oracle's corporate and product objectives.

The creation of an OpenStack Foundation would show that Rackspace understands it doesn't actually own the project, he said. "[Independence] protects the project from management changes and changes of priorities at any one company. Most important of all, it encourages an ecosystem to develop, by placing everyone on fair and equal footing."

Nonetheless, Clark said he will continue working on OpenStack with his new employer, Cisco, an OpenStack community member. Despite his criticism, Clark has been nominated to the newly expanded governance board as a lead on the Nova project.

At Canonical, Clark was the Ubuntu Server team engineering manager responsible for putting Eucalyptus in Ubuntu Server 9.10 in 2009. ®

Update

Clark has made another post to his blog. "Since this seems to have spun out of control a bit, I’d like to add a little clarification to my views," he said. "I am a fan of Rackspace. They are a good company full of good people trying to do what they think is right for their business. Rackspace has a set of core values that most companies would do well to emulate."

He also said: "I don’t have any major problems with the governance. It is an incremental improvement over what we had. I have a problem with the process that was used make the governance change. I feel that changes like this should be open and transparent.

"I don’t think there was any ill intent on Rackspace’s part in making these changes. They just thought they could. That is the crux of my issue. I want Rackspace to realize that there are expectations of transparency in open source projects and that it is a technical undertaking and involving the technical community in decisions is critical to long term success."

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