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OpenStack: Not broken, but diffuse

A recent blog posting from Rackspace has the title Is OpenStack Broken?… Not So Fast, My Friend. It describes some of the statements that OpenStack is too complicated and hard to deploy as a perception problem because

...each of these refrains was largely coming from enterprise and mid-market customers who were viewing OpenStack through the lens of one particular delivery model: the “do-it-yourself” model. This model opens up a Pandora’s box of OpenStack complexity...

and then says the reason for the "frustration is pretty simple; OpenStack is not a product" and that it is best to "think of OpenStack as a major auto parts store". The author then goes on to explain how the managed OpenStack service that Rackspace provides helps ameliorate these complexities.

In an earlier posting I complained that modeling OpenStack as a kit (or auto parts) was bad for the quality of the end result. Many people responded that the kit metaphor was not just correct but intentional, in large part to enable the kinds of markets that support competition amongst providers like Rackspace.

That's all well and good but there are at least two issues:

  • It conflicts with any straightforward interpretation of the word "platform" in the various OpenStack mission statements.

  • It works against contribution from a critical portion of the open source community: Motivated individuals not affiliated with institutional members of the OpenStack Foundation.

The first point can be lawyered up and down the street, so not really worth addressing, but the other point: that's important.

I contend that an open source project is neither truly open source nor healthy open source (from the standpoint of diversity of inputs) unless it has significant numbers of contributors who contribute because they use the tool for their own purposes and are not directly employed to work on the creation or maintenance of the thing. Such people definitely exist in the OpenStack community but they are neither particular visible nor numerous.

I have more than one friend who has endeavored to invest both time and money into using OpenStack for their own purposes. They are trying to be users but also want to be developers. They've considered trying to contribute but have backed off because there's no clean entry point for the uninitiated. A vast (and growing) collection of projects that fall under the big tent must be navigated to find somewhere to inject oneself. And that's just the first of many hurdles (even if you know where to go there is bureaucracy, delay and complexity to overcome).

If there were a thing—probably called openstack—which provided the entry point to all of OpenStack™ on the dimensions of both code and use, that would provide a path for active individual users to become active developers. Such a thing could effectively:

  • be the porcelain over the existing plumbing provided by nova, neutron, and friends
  • provide a clear entry point
  • be the focus point for making the desperately needed user experience improvements to all of OpenStack as a platform

Right now the OpenStack sort-of-platform best serves the needs of the enterprises who provide affiliated developers to make OpenStack. We need to make it not just easier but worthwhile for unaffiliated potential contributors to become active members of the community. Otherwise the ecosystem is too closed.

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