OpenStack’s Hong Kong summit could be effort to keep China from going rogue

Fragmentation is often a threat with technologies that take off in China

The OpenStack Foundation may have good reason to host its next summit in Hong Kong, and not just because OpenStack is growing in popularity in China. The foundation could hope that its decision to base the summit in Hong Kong in November might draw contributors into the fold so that they don’t splinter.

First, let’s look at some stats that show just how much interest in OpenStack there is from China. More people visit the OpenStack Web site, where anyone can download the code, from Bejing than any other city in the world, said Mark Collier, OpenStack Foundation’s chief operating officer. Bangalore comes next, followed by Silicon Valley, Shanghai and London.

chinese flag_0.jpgSource: Philip Jagenstedt, via Flickr

Also, developers in China account for the second largest number of code commits to OpenStack, based on region. Those developers are most often affiliated with multinational companies with offices in China, like IBM, Hitachi and Samsung, said Piston Cloud’s co-founder and CTO Josh McKenty.

However, there are signs that OpenStack developers in China are a bit disconnected and in fact could be contributing even more than they are. “We also have some problems in the Chinese OpenStack community,” Hui Cheng, who once led the OpenStack effort at Sina and recently launched a startup, told “One is that most Chinese companies are just using OpenStack instead of contributing to upstream.” Chen’s startup, UnitedStack, aims to build an OpenStack distribution targeted at the Asian markets.

He blamed a language barrier as well as a cultural disconnect where few companies in China understand the spirit of open source. Cheng also suggested that more OpenStack leaders, like Rackspace, Dell and Red Hat would do well to open offices in China and try to boost their presence there.

Opening in China is a daunting prospect for many companies though (Cheng acknowledged it must be hard for companies to enter a market with “ambiguous government policy”), Piston included. “It’s one of those markets that so many startups have gone after and done wrong and gotten crushed,” McKenty said. “Until we can afford to have our people on the ground, we have no business trying to play there,” he said of Piston’s intentions to enter the Chinese market.

Hosting the Summit in Hong Kong is a good way for OpenStack to reach out to the community in China and build deeper relationships with them. That could help ensure that they stay on track with the rest of the worldwide OpenStack community.

China has a history of going rogue. I watched it develop its own 3G technology, much to the dismay of global network and phone makers who were shut out of the market. More recently, Chinese companies have gleefully gone on their own with Android.

Analyst Ben Bajarin put it nicely in a blog post from late last year: In China, “Android is fragmented, un-unified, inconsistent, and otherwise fundamentally fractured in as many ways a platform can possibly be,” he wrote.

That is not the environment that OpenStack – or the many vendors supporting it – surely wants in China.

Collier didn’t have great answers for how the community might prevent that kind of fragmentation. “As soon as you get off the path you have a hard time coming back and you lose the benefits of being part of an open source community cranking out new versions,” he said, as if that was incentive enough for China to stick to the OpenStack trunk. True, but that reasoning hasn’t made a difference in China with Android.

Collier did say the foundation is aware of the possibility of fragmentation in China. “It’s worth keeping an eye on,” he said. “We think interoperability is a priority and we should definitely keep close tabs on it.”

Read more of Nancy Gohring's "To the Cloud" blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @ngohring and on Google+. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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