Red Hat goes for OpenStack's community jugular

Beating the community bat over OpenStack's head

Red Hat has chosen to announce its new cloud management software Aeolus with a fresh spin of being more community-oriented than Aeolus' competitor, OpenStack.

I find that kind of funny because in the olden days, Red Hat was often accused of the same thing: not being a community player compared to distributions like SUSE Linux, Debian GNU/Linux, and Mandrake. Yet, here we are in 2011, with Red Hat pitching a cloud offering to counter OpenStack's by asserting the Aeolus development process is more open and participatory.

[Choosing sides in the cloud game and OpenStack: Commercial, open source aren't exclusive]

The Register's Gavin Clarke has the story, which contains statements from Red Hat Vice President and General Manager of Cloud Computing Scott Crenshaw that go straight for OpenStack's community jugular.

"'You see a lot of people dabbling [in the open-source cloud], but the question is: When do we get real code and real contributions from third parties? There's the OpenStack project that has a lot of people signing up, but when you talk to the people, the vast majority is the press release; a lot of people are keeping their options open,'" Crenshaw told The Register.

This is an interesting tactic, one that seems keyed on grumblings I heard at OSCON in July about OpenStack's lack of community governance. OpenStack, co-founded by RackSpace and NASA, is run by a for-profit corporation: OpenStack, LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Rackspace Hosting. The grumblings made me raise the question of governance to Jonathan Bryce, founder of The Rackspace Cloud and member of the OpenStack Project Policy Board (PPB) during the OSCON event and explore the notion of whether a commercial vendor or a non-profit foundation would be more appropriate to run an open source project.

The PPB is comprised by twelve board members, four appointed by Rackspace (and currently only two of those seats are held by Rackspace employees), with the other eight positions elected by the community at large.

This current arrangement was itself the source of a little controversy this Spring, when Rackspace was accused of unilaterally altering the parameters of the PPB by departing Rackspace employee Rick Clark. Clark argued in March that even though he believed that changes in OpenStack governance model were positive, the closed way in which they were enacted did little to show the community that at the end of the day, it was Rackspace asserting direct control over the OpenStack in the way they saw fit.

Bryce countered in an April interview with GigaOM:

"Regarding the board changes, Bryce said, Clark's post wasn't entirely accurate because the changes actually were decided through a variety of public, private and hybrid forums, as opposed to unilaterally and behind closed doors. There are reasons a company wouldn't want certain governance issues discussed in the open, he said, without elaborating on what those might be. And whatever the process, Bryce added, the result was a more open voting process and inclusive board..."

And whatever problems Clark had with the PPB shift must not have been too strong: Clark, now employed by Citrix, is sitting on the PPB, and he himself amended his concerns.

Crenshaw was more than willing to point out this past governance controversy in his conversation with The Register.

"Crenshaw said that Red Hat had been approached to join OpenStack when the project started, but he said his company had declined as the governance model didn't allow for contributions that would have suited its customers, and the project was too tightly controlled by one vendor."

Red Hat's message of open community transparency magic pixie-dust falls more than a little flat when you realize that currently no governance model exists for Aeolus, so right now Aeolus is more tightly controlled by a single vendor than OpenStack ever was. The Register's Clarke, true to form, pointed out this discrepancy to Crenshaw:

"Crenshaw reckoned it is natural for such a project to be led by one company while it is still spinning up. He also pointed to Red Hat's experience in running the Fedora and JBoss communities as proof of its credentials and good intentions."

I'm scratching my head at Fedora and JBoss as examples of projects that are not dominated by Red Hat's interests.

Yes, each project is governed fairly and openly, with little on-paper control by Red Hat. But let's be honest here: if the Fedora Project decided to make a major shift in design or technology that ran counter to Red Hat's plans for Red Hat Enterprise Linux, I have little doubt they would be able to exert control and reign the rogue project members in. Fedora and JBoss are open, but in practice there are limits to how far that freedom goes.

I am not criticizing these limitations and I'm not trying to pick on Fedora. All communities have to have rules and guidelines to keep things from degenerating into pure anarchy. I just find it a little disingenuous of Red Hat, a commercial vendor managing open source projects, for going after another commercial vendor who's doing the same thing.

Pot, meet kettle.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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