OpenStack: Keeping Many Chefs in Line

I had an informative call with Jonathan Bryce, the Executive Director of the OpenStack Foundation today. He went over the features of OpenStack’s new Havana release. Good stuff – but not the topic of this blog post. Of more interest, at least for now: his response to my question about how OpenStack handles the “too many chefs” problem.

There are dozens of companies who are members of OpenStack, some large and many small. And most if not all contribute code to the OpenStack codebase. So how do they keep the big vendors from pushing around the small ones? And how do they keep the whole effort from devolving into a massive food fight?

The answer: the community is contribution-driven. It doesn’t matter how big your company is or how much money you’ve donated to the OpenStack Foundation, the value of a contributor’s code is based on the quality of the code, end of story. True, larger contributors tend to assign more people to OpenStack, but they are treated as individual contributors within OpenStack’s consensus-based community review system. So if one vendor figured they could bring some agenda to the table and try to sway the codebase in their favor, there are plenty of controls in place that would counteract such pressure.

So, what’s a vendor to do if they want to drive competitive advantage with OpenStack? A few have tried branching the code to meet their own goals, essentially grabbing the OpenStack football and running to their own end zone with it. But the few vendors who have tried this ploy haven’t met with much success.

Why? Because the OpenStack community is so well-established, or as Bryce describes it, “mass has gravity.” In other words, instead of too many chefs spoiling the broth, the size of the community reinforces its strengths. There’s always the chance that OpenStack will go off the rails at some point, given its size and the immaturity of the IaaS marketplace, but not anytime soon.

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