OpenStack Foundation on the horizon

So why did Rackspace change their mind about OpenStack governance?

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Community reaction has been mostly positive so far around today's upcoming announcement that Rackspace, apparently bowing to pressure from the same community, will form an OpenStack Foundation next year.

The OpenStack cloud hosting project has been getting pushed about creating a foundation for quite some time, even as it became a pretty popular open source project. But even with all the attributes that make open source developers happy--copyrights are kept by the contributors, the project is under the Apache Software License 2.0, and the project is governed by a board with eight out of twelve elected seats--a lot of people were still worried about the future of OpenStack, because all of the copyrights and trademarks are owned by OpenStack, LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Rackspace Hosting.

Initially, it was Rackspace that bore the brunt of suspicion regarding the health of OpenStack. This past spring, 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.

Currently Rackspace is governed by a twelve-person Project Policy Board (PPB), with four of the twelve board positions are appointed by Rackspace (and currently only two of those seats are held by Rackspace employees), and the other eight positions elected by the community at large.

Later, as people calmed down about Rackspace, there were still concerns that a larger, less open-source-friendly company could come along and acquire Rackspace and its assets, thus forever altering the OpenStack project.

Today's announcement is expected to formally come during the OpenStack design summit currently underway in Boston. It will represent a significant change in Rackspace's attitude about foundations.

Contrast, for instance, the remarks made to me during OSCON in July by Jonathan Bryce, founder of The Rackspace Cloud and member of the OpenStack PPB, when I asked him point blank: why wasn't OpenStack moving towards a non-profit foundation governance model?

Bryce was skeptical about the purity of the foundation model. His immediate answer was that "most foundations are vendor-driven," what with corporate members holding board positions and providing resources and time to such organizations. Because of this corporate influence, "foundations are no guarantee there will be a meritocracy" within a project, Bryce said.

But in remarks this week to The Register, "Bryce said Rackspace felt the time is right to create a permanent, vendor-neutral and independent home for OpenStack."

So why the change?

From where I sit, it can only be from outside pressure. The only question in my mind is who was applying that pressure, and how.

There is a strong argument for basic market pressure pushing Rackspace into this move. In August, when they launched their Aeolus cloud management software, Red Hat went right after OpenStack's community bonafides in the hopes of making Aeolus look better by tearing OpenStack down.

"'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 at the time.

It's not clear whether Red Hat's smack talk about community scored a hit in Rackspace's corporate headquarters. Certainly I was less than impressed, given (as CentOS founder Russ Herrold reminded me) Red Hat's own history with foundations. But it is possible that Rackspace saw this as a PR/marketing problem that they could put off no longer.

Then there's the rumor floating around that Rackspace's hand was forced by at least one major OpenStack community member threatening to spin off the OpenStack code and launch a new foundation-based project, à la LibreOffice and The Document Foundation.

That rumor, if at all true, would explain the sudden change of heart by Rackspace and its OpenStack subsidiary. Faced with the prospect of losing nearly all control of OpenStack and/or dividing the project's community, versus putting OpenStack in a foundation and thus retaining a whole community and most of the control, the choice would have been simple for Rackspace.

There is, inherently, nothing wrong with a commercial interest running a successful open source project. In fact, it can work well. But the open source community has historically been wary of projects that have been corporate-led, and that same history has often validated those fears. Sun Microsystems's acquisition by Oracle and the ongoing problems that have ensued for some of the open source projects that Sun once led (OpenOffice.org, Hudson, MySQL, and Java) have justified the notion that when a for-profit corporate entity has control of an open source project has control over a free or open source software project, you're just asking for trouble.

Better, many argue, to contribute code and governance responsibilities to a non-profit foundation, where ultimately the code and other project works will be protected from being dominated by any one vendor.

For whatever the reason, Rackspace seems to have gotten on board with this idea, and the community will probably welcome a new OpenStack Foundation, provided the governance model is something they like. Time will tell if this will lead to the kind of community involvement OpenStack desires.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or 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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