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Red Hat: We don't need no stinking dictator to make money out of OpenStack (in late 2015)

Open source company reckons young technology is 18 months away from major market adoption

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Open source company Red Hat thinks it might start making significant money out of OpenStack in the Autumn of 2015 and it won't need a Linus Torvalds-like dictator to keep the project focused.

The company told El Reg on Wednesday at the Red Hat Summit that it will turn the data center management cloud technology into serious money toward the end of next year. Red Hat recently re-organized its business units to help it push OpenStack into the enterprise, with the hope of creating the same lucrative market for the data center management and provisioning tech as it did for Linux half a decade ago.

"The next 18 months is foundational," explained Red Hat's general manager for OpenStack Radhesh Balakrishnan, in a chat with El Reg. "We already started ringing the cash register on OpenStack. Would we like it to be ringing more? Absolutely. What do we see on the horizon? A ten to fifteen x scaling potential."

So far the majority of Red Hat's OpenStack deployment has been for test and development, Balakrishnan said, but he expects major production – and with that major money – deployments to come along by the end of next year.

OpenStack, like Linux, will take several years to make money and Balakrishnan seemed to feel that the expectations by the press for insta-profitability are a bit unrealistic. OpenStack launched in mid-2010 with technology donated by Rackspace and NASA and since then has signed up a fleet of contributors including Intel, HP, Red Hat, and others.

"It's a three-plus year old startup," explained Dave Cahill, Solidfire's Director of Strategic Alliances when asked about what he saw in OpenStack's future. VMware, he pointed out, was founded pre-2000 and didn't start to make serious money till around 2009. A lot rides on OpenStack's success as it gives company's a potentially cheap way of managing thousands upon thousands of servers without having to pay for the basic software.

"People want a tool to solve this and want to get out of the VMware tax," he explained to El Reg. OpenStack may be that tool.

One reason why OpenStack has failed to pull in as much cash as its various corporate backers hope could be a lack of focus within the project that has led to feature-creep in some areas and a lack of development on key features like networking and scheduling elsewhere.

When El Reg asks cloud insiders what could be done to give the project more focus, many argue that OpenStack needs a 'benevolent dictator' who would lead OpenStack development in the same way Linus Torvalds uses his opinionated, curmudgeonly persona to steer Linux development.

Right now, OpenStack development is steered by a Foundation – a form of governance unlikely to yield a member saying to an OpenStack developer "I'm f*cking tired of the fact that you don't fix problems in the code *you* write," as Torvalds wrote recently.

Although this isn't a particularly pleasant way to develop software, having a single opinionated individual dictate the direction of a project can give it focus – after all, besides Linux many proprietary companies have grown successful by being led by a strong leader like Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Bill Gates (Microsoft) or Larry Ellison (Oracle).

Red Hat isn't convinced by this argument and argues that OpenStack's "Foundation" model of governance is sufficient.

"We don't believe the need for [a Linus figure]," Balakrishnan said. "Personally, if I had a choice between a reasonable set of customers and customer reasoning and someone who is a colorful personality I'm more convinced by the other. It's a more pragmatic approach. There is also the other dimension - Linux was just compute, now you're talking about storage and network and compute and PaaS - the scope gets really large for one single visionary."

For OpenStack to be developed to the point of serious profitability "we need multitudes of leaders!" Balakrishnan said.

Dave Cahill of Solidfire is optimistic as well, saying that the Foundation has "generally done a pretty good job" and that OpenStack won't suffer as long as the Foundation "doesn't become a standards body."

"The OpenStack Foundation gives the technical meritocracy and influencing ability to the ones driving it. If the best brains are driving it why worry about the personality?" argues Balakrishnan. ®

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