OpenStack co-founder questions governance proposal

Creation of "super-member" class would "strangle ecosystem"

The OpenStack project is continuing its journey from being a corporate-led entity to being held by a non-profit foundation, but the project's co-founder is raising strong concerns about the new governance proposal. Especially the proposed $2.5 million fee for entry into the highest membership tier.

Right off the bat, you have to give the OpenStack leaders credit: they are being fairly transparent in how they are setting up their new OpenStack Foundation. In January, OpenStack posted their proposed mission statement on the project's wiki, and more recently they have posted a proposed governance and funding plan at the same site.

The proposal covers three major areas of concerns: technical governance, corporate governance, and funding for the whole megillah.

Project governance is relatively straightforward. Like most foundations of this sort, individual projects will be led by the Project Technical Leads (PTLs), which is the same approach OpenStack's corporate benefactor RackSpace manages OpenStack now. The PTL for a project would be "elected by the body of contributors to that particular project."

While the details are still being worked out, the first real transition in governance will take place with the current Project Policy Board (PBB) that oversees the technical aspects of the OpenStack project.

"The... [PPB] will transition into the 'Technical Committee' and retains oversight of broad technical matters. The Technical Committee is independent, meritocratic, with the ability to change its own structure and processes. Working with the PTLs, the technical committee sets technical policies that cross projects and determines incubation of new projects. Technical Committee members are elected by 'Individual Members' of the Foundation to staggered 1-year terms. PTLs can run for seats, but do not get automatic seats to keep the size manageable as the number of projects increases."

There's a transition here, to be sure, but the Technical Committee will essentially replace the existing PPB in a smooth way. Where the concerns start to show up is in the area of corporate governance, which would replace not just one part of OpenStack, as the Technical Committee would replace the PPB, but take on the entire role that RackSpace plays now.

Meaning, the overall direction and funding of OpenStack.

This job would be under the purview of the Board of Directors, which is described on the OpenStack wiki:

"The Board of Directors provides legal management of the Foundation and its financial resources. The Board oversees Foundation operations, sets overall budget and goals for Foundation staff, and hires the Executive Director. Board members are also expected to advocate for the Foundation and the entire OpenStack community.

"Individual Members elect 1/3 of the seats, Associate Members elect 1/3 of the seats, and Strategic Members appoint 1/3 of the seats on the Board of Directors. Key policies require a 70% supermajority for changes (e.g., Trademark Policy, Governance Structure)."

Under the proposal, the new OpenStack Foundation would ideally keep the Board small (and therefore manageable) with a total of 15 members. But the ticket cost of getting to the Strategic Member level has been deemed by some to be too high.

According to the funding page on the wiki,

"Strategic Members will fund $500,000 per year (paid annually) with a five year commitment. Governance documents will allow Strategic Members to withdraw from Board and funding obligation if Foundation changes its mission. Associate Members will fund an amount equal to total company revenue times .025%, with a minimum of $50k and a maximum of $250k. In addition to the funding commitment, Strategic Members will provide operational resources to the Foundation such as staffing or development environment infrastructure. Resource requirements will be developed in more detail by the drafting committee, but the general expectation is a resource commitment that is consistent with staffing two full time equivalents."

That initial five-year commitment means that any company that wants to be a Strategic Member in the OpenStack Foundation will need to plunk down $2.5 million up front to get into the club. Associate Members' $50,000-250,000 annual price tag is not as steep, but clearly the OpenStack Foundation is looking for a lot of steady funding.

It needs it, according to the proposal, to replace the current $4-5 million in annual funding RackSpace currently supplies to OpenStack.

But one very prominent OpenStack participant has strong concerns about this funding (and governance) proposal. In an open letter to the OpenStack community, Joshua McKenty, CEO of Piston Cloud Computing and co-founder of the OpenStack project, voiced his problems with the proposal.

"The current official proposal for the foundation creates a new class of super-members--with a sticker price of $2.5M (due up front) that puts it out of reach of all but a small handful of organizations."

This super-member class would provide the funding needed for the Foundation to operate, McKenty argued, but it would also give a lot of influence to the very small group of companies that would actually be able to pay to join this club.

"…[I]t's not a structure that represents or embodies the principles that OpenStack was founded upon, and I think that while it may offer some short-term benefits, it may be damaging to the long-term health of the project because it strangles the ecosystem of contributing companies we’ve worked so hard to create," McKenty wrote in his blog.

In the letter, McKenty makes a new proposal that attempts to give the Foundation the funding it needs, yet levels the playing field. (McKenty estimates a $3 million annual budget, lower than the $4-5 million the Foundation wiki specifies.)

  • "One class of corporate member
  • "Provide reasonable evidence of 2 FTE (full time equivalents) working on OpenStack in some capacity
  • "Commit to 2 years of sponsorship, on an evergreen basis, but paid annually
  • "Individual members, if there are any, cannot be employed by a corporate member

"My rough calculation, having a reasonably good grasp of the interests and level of engagement of the various corporations in the OpenStack ecosystem, is that we could expect around 15 of the 150 companies involved to meet these requirements. $3M divided by 15 = $200,000."

This egalitarian approach has merit, but the cynical side of me wonders if McKenty's counter proposal will have a chance to succeed. Corporate participants in trade organizations like a new OpenStack Foundation usually prefer tiered membership plans. While they may tout community and open source participation all they want, what they really like is the amount of control they can exert on new and rapidly growing technologies through such memberships.

McKenty's "level playing field" approach would diminish that sort of control (which is basically McKenty's goal), but I would have to wonder if the big corporations that have already made a lot of noise about OpenStack participation might be less than enthused by such an approach.

The debate is still on, and for now, the OpenStack leaders are listening.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Zettatag and Open for Discussion blogs 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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