Introducing OpenStack SIGs

Back in March in Boston, the OpenStack Board of Directors, Technical Committee, User Committee and Foundation staff members met for a strategic workshop. The goal of the workshop was to come up with a list of key issues needing attention from OpenStack leadership. One of the strategic areas that emerged from that workshop is the need to improve the feedback loop between users and developers of the software. Melvin Hillsman volunteered to lead that area.

Why SIGs ?

OpenStack was quite successful in raising an organized, vocal, and engaged user community. However the developer and user communities are still mostly acting as separate communities. Improving the feedback loop starts with putting everyone caring about the same problem space in the same rooms and work groups. The Forum (removing the artificial line between the Design Summit and the Ops Summit) was a first step in that direction. SIGs are another step in addressing that problem.

Currently in OpenStack we have various forms of workgroups, all attached to a specific OpenStack governance body: User Committee workgroups (like the Scientific WG or the Large Deployment WG), upstream workgroups (like the API WG or the Deployment WG), or Board workgroups. Some of those are very focused on a specific segment of the community, so it makes sense to attach them to a specific governance body. But most are just a group of humans interested in tackling a specific problem space together, and establishing those groups in a specific community corner sends the wrong message and discourages participation from everyone in the community.

As a result (and despite our efforts to communicate that everyone is welcome), most TC-governed workgroups lack operator participants, and most UC-governed workgroups lack developer participants. It's clearly not because the scope of the group is one-sided (developers are interested in scaling issues, operators are interested in deployment issues). It's because developers assume that a user committee workgroup about "large deployments" is meant to gather operator feedback rather than implementing solutions. It's because operators assume that an upstream-born workgroup about "deployment" is only to explore development commonalities between the various deployment strategies. Or they just fly below the other group's usual radar. SIGs are about breaking the artificial barriers and making it clear(er) that workgroups are for everyone, by disconnecting them from the governance domains and the useless upstream/downstream division.

SIGs in practice

SIGs are neither operator-focused nor developer-focused. They are open groups, with documented guidance on how to get involved. They have a scope, a clear description of the problem space they are working to address, or of the use case they want to better support in OpenStack. Their membership includes affected users that can discuss the pain points and the needs, as well as development resources that can pool their efforts to achieve the groups goals. Ideally everyone in the group straddles the artificial line between operators and developers and identifies as a little of both.

In practice, SIGs are not really different from the various forms of workgroups we already have. You can continue to use the same meetings, git repositories, and group outputs that you used to have. To avoid systematic cross-posting between the openstack-dev and the openstack-operators mailing-lists, SIG discussions can use the new openstack-sigs mailing-list, SIG members can take advantage of our various events (PTG, Ops meetups, Summits) to meet in person.

Next steps

We are only getting started. So far we only have one SIG: the "Meta" SIG, to discuss advancement of the SIG concept. Several existing workgroups have expressed their willingness to become early adopters of the new concept, so we'll have more soon. If your workgroup is interested in being branded as a SIG, let Melvin or myself know, we'll guide you through the process (which at this point only involves being listed on a wiki page). Over time we expect SIGs to become the default: most community-specific workgroups would become cross-community SIGs, and the remaining workgroups would become more like subteams of their associated governance body.

And if you have early comments or ideas on SIGs, please join the Meta discussion on the openstack-sigs mailing-list, (using the [meta] subject prefix)!

Using proprietary services to develop open source software

It is now pretty well accepted that open source is a superior way of producing software. Almost everyone is doing open source those days. In particular, the ability for users to look under the hood and make changes results in tools that are better adapted to their workflows. It reduces the cost and risk of finding yourself locked-in with a vendor in an unbalanced relationship. It contributes to a virtuous circle of continuous improvement, blurring the lines between consumers and producers. It enables everyone to remix and invent new things. It adds up to the common human knowledge.

And yet

And yet, a lot of open source software is developed on (and with the help of) proprietary services running closed-source code. Countless open source projects are developed on GitHub, or with the help of Jira for bugtracking, Slack for communications, Google docs for document authoring and sharing, Trello for status boards. That sounds a bit paradoxical and hypocritical -- a bit too much "do what I say, not what I do". Why is that ? If we agree that open source has so many tangible benefits, why are we so willing to forfeit them with the very tooling we use to produce it ?

But it's free !

The argument usually goes like this: those platforms may be proprietary, they offer great features, and they are provided free of charge to my open source project. Why on Earth would I go through the hassle of setting up, maintaining, and paying for infrastructure to run less featureful solutions ? Or why would I pay for someone to host it for me ? The trick is, as the saying goes, when the product is free, you are the product. In this case, your open source community is the product. In the worst case scenario, the personal data and activity patterns of your community members will be sold to 3rd parties. In the best case scenario, your open source community is recruited by force in an army that furthers the network effect and makes it even more difficult for the next open source project to not use that proprietary service. In all cases, you, as a project, decide to not bear the direct cost, but ask each and every one of your contributors to pay for it indirectly instead. You force all of your contributors to accept the ever-changing terms of use of the proprietary service in order to participate to your "open" community.

Recognizing the trade-off

It is important to recognize the situation for what it is. A trade-off. On one side, shiny features, convenience. On the other, a lock-in of your community through specific features, data formats, proprietary protocols or just plain old network effect and habit. Each situation is different. In some cases the gap between the proprietary service and the open platform will be so large that it makes sense to bear the cost. Google Docs is pretty good at what it does, and I find myself using it when collaborating on something more complex than etherpads or ethercalcs. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there is really no reason to use Doodle when you can use Framadate. In the same vein, Wekan is close enough to Trello that you should really consider it as well. For Slack vs. Mattermost vs. IRC, the trade-off is more subtle. As a sidenote, the cost of lock-in is a lot reduced when the proprietary service is built on standard protocols. For example, GMail is not that much of a problem because it is easy enough to use IMAP to integrate it (and possibly move away from it in the future). If Slack was just a stellar opinionated client using IRC protocols and servers, it would also not be that much of a problem.

Part of the solution

Any simple answer to this trade-off would be dogmatic. You are not unpure if you use proprietary services, and you are not wearing blinders if you use open source software for your project infrastructure. Each community will answer that trade-off differently, based on their roots and history. The important part is to acknowledge that nothing is free. When the choice is made, we all need to be mindful of what we gain, and what we lose. To conclude, I think we can all agree that all other things being equal, when there is an open-source solution which has all the features of the proprietary offering, we all prefer to use that. The corollary is, we all benefit when those open-source solutions get better. So to be part of the solution, consider helping those open source projects build something as good as the proprietary alternative, especially when they are pretty close to it feature-wise. That will make solving that trade-off a lot easier.

So you want to create a new official OpenStack project...

OpenStack development is organized around a mission, a governance model and a set of principles. Project teams apply for inclusion, and the Technical Committee (TC), elected by all OpenStack contributors, judges whether that team work helps with the OpenStack mission and follows the OpenStack development principles. If it does, the team is considered part of the OpenStack development community, and its work is considered an official OpenStack project.

The main effect of being official is that it places the team work under the oversight of the Technical Committee. In exchange, recent contributors to that team are considered Active Technical Contributors (ATCs), which means they can participate in the vote to elect the Technical Committee.

Why ?

When you want to create a new official OpenStack project, the first thing to check is whether you're doing it for the right reasons. In particular, there is no need to be an official OpenStack project to benefit from our outstanding project infrastructure (git repositories, Gerrit code reviews, cloud-powered testing and gating). There is also no need to place your project under the OpenStack Technical Committee oversight to be allowed to work on something related to OpenStack. And the ATC status no longer brings additional benefits, beyond the TC election voting rights.

From a development infrastructure standpoint, OpenStack provides the governance, the systems and the neutral asset lock to create open collaboration grounds. On those grounds multiple organizations and individuals can cooperate on a level playing field, without one organization in particular owning a given project.

So if you are not interested in having new organizations contribute to your project, or would prefer to retain full control over it, it probably makes sense to not ask to become an official OpenStack project. Same if you want to follow slightly-different principles, or want to relax certain community rules, or generally would like to behave a lot differently than other OpenStack projects.

What ?

Still with me ? So... What would be a good project team to propose for inclusion ? The most important aspect is that the topic you're working on must help further the OpenStack Mission, which is to produce a ubiquitous Open Source Cloud Computing platform that is easy to use, simple to implement, interoperable between deployments, works well at all scales, and meets the needs of users and operators of both public and private clouds.

It is also very important that the team seamlessly merges into the OpenStack Community. It must adhere to the 4 Opens and follow the OpenStack principles. The Technical Committee made a number of choices to avoid fragmenting the community into several distinct silos. All projects use Gerrit to propose changes, IRC to communicate, a set of approved programming languages... Those rules are not set in stone, but we are unlikely to change them just to facilitate the addition of one given new project team. All those requirements are summarized in the new project requirements document.

The new team must also know its way around our various systems, development tools and processes. Ideally the team would be formed from existing OpenStack community members; if not the Project Team Guide is there to help you getting up to speed.

Where ?

OK, you're now ready to make the plunge. One question you may ask yourself is whether you should contribute your project to an existing project team, or ask to become a new official project team.

Since the recent project structure reform (a.k.a. the "big tent"), work in OpenStack is organized around groups of people, rather than the general topic of your work. So you don't have to ask the Neutron team to adopt your project just because it is about networking. The real question is more... is it the same team working on both projects ? Does the existing team feel like they can vouch for this new work, and/or are willing to adapt their team scope to include it ? Having two different groups under a single team and PTL only creates extra governance problems. So if the teams working on it are distinct enough, then the new project should probably be filed separately.

Another question you may ask yourself is whether alternate implementations of the same functionality are OK. Is competition allowed between official projects ? On one hand competition means dilution of effort, so you want to minimize it. On the other you don't want to close evolutionary paths, so you need to let alternate solutions grow. The Technical Committee answer to that is: alternate solutions are allowed, as long as they are not gratuitously competing. Competition must be between two different technical approaches, not two different organizations or egos. Cooperation must be considered first. This is all the more important the deeper you go in the stack: it is obviously a lot easier to justify competition on an OpenStack installer (which consumes all other projects), than on AuthN/AuthZ (which all other projects rely on).

How ?

Let's do this ! How to proceed ? The first and hardest part is to pick a name. We want to avoid having to rename the project later due to trademark infringement, once it has built some name recognition. A good rule of thumb is that if the name sounds good, it's probably already used somewhere. Obscure made-up names, or word combinations are less likely to be a registered trademark than dictionary words (or person names). Online searches can help weeding out the worst candidates. Please be good citizens and also avoid collision with other open source project names, even if they are not trademarked.

Step 2, you need to create the project on OpenStack infrastructure. See the Infra manual for instructions, and reach out on the #openstack-infra IRC channel if you need help.

The final step is to propose a change to the openstack/governance repository, to add your project team to the reference/projects.yaml file. That will serve as the official request to the Technical Committee, so be sure to include a very informative commit message detailing how well you fill the new projects requirements. Good examples of that would be this change or this one.

When ?

The timing of the request is important. In order to be able to assess whether the new team behaves like the rest of the OpenStack community, the Technical Committee usually requires that the new team operates on OpenStack infrastructure (and collaborates on IRC and the mailing-list) for a few months.

We also tend to freeze new team applications during the second part of the development cycles, as we start preparing for the release and the PTG. So the optimal timing would be to set up your project on OpenStack infrastructure around the middle of one cycle, and propose for official inclusion at the start of the next cycle (before the first development milestone). Release schedules are published here.

That's it !

I hope this article will help you avoid the most obvious traps in your way to become an official OpenStack project. Feel free to reach out to me (or any other Technical Committee member) if you have questions or would like extra advice !

OpenStack TC mythbusting

On several occasions over the last months, I heard people exposing truths about the OpenStack Technical Committee. However, those positions were often inaccurate or incomplete. Arguably we are not communicating enough: governance changes and resolutions that are brought to the TC are just approved or rejected. That binary answer is generally not the whole story, and with only the headline, it is easy to read too much in a past decision. We should do a better job at communicating beyond that simple answer when the topic is more complex, and at continuously explaining the role and limits of the TC. Hopefully this blogpost will help, by busting some of those myths.

Myth #1: "the TC doesn't want Go in OpenStack"

This one comes from the recent rejection of a resolution proposing to add golang to the list of approved languages, to support merging the hummingbird feature branch into Swift's master branch. A more accurate way to present that decision would be to say that a (short) majority of the TC members was not supporting the addition of golang at that time and under the proposed conditions. In summary it was more of a "not now, not this way" than a "never".

There were a number of reasons for this decision, but the crux was: adding a language creates fragmentation and a support cost for all of the OpenStack community, so we need to make sure "OpenStack" as a whole is successful with it, beyond any specific project. That means for example having a clear plan for integrating Go within all our standing processes, while trying to prevent duplication of effort or gratuitous rewrites. The discussion was actually recently restarted by Flavio in this change. We'll need resources to make this a success, so if you care, please jump in to help.

Myth #2: "the TC doesn't like competition with existing projects"

I'm not exactly sure where this one comes from. I can't think of any specific TC decision that would explain it. Historically, back when we had programs, a given team would own a given problem space and could essentially lock alternatives out. But the Big Tent project structure reform changed that, allowing competition to happen within our community.

Yes, we still want to encourage cooperation wherever it's possible, so we still have a requirement which says "where it makes sense, the project cooperates with existing projects rather than gratuitously competing or reinventing the wheel". But as long as the new project is different or presents a different value proposal, it should be fair game. For example we accepted the Monasca team in the same problem space as the Telemetry team. And we have several teams working on various deployment recipes.

That said, having competitive solutions in OpenStack on key problem spaces (like base compute or networking services) creates interesting second-order questions in terms of what is "core", trademark usage and interoperability. Those are arguably more downstream concerns than upstream concerns, but that explains why the deeper you go, the more difficult the community discussion is likely to be.

Myth #3: "the TC does not set any direction"

There are multiple variants on that one, from "OpenStack needs a benevolent dictator" to "a camel is a horse designed by a committee". The idea behind it is that the TC needs to have a very opinionated plan for OpenStack and somehow force everyone in our community to follow it. Part of this myth is trying to apply single-vendor software development theory to an open collaboration, and misunderstanding how other large open source projects (like the Linux kernel) work.

While the TC members are all well-respected in our community, we can't unilaterally decide everything for 2500+ developers from 300+ different organizations, and expect them all to execute The Plan. What the TC can do, however, is to define the mission, provide an environment, set principles, enforce common practices, and arbitrate conflicts. In painting terms, the TC provides the frame, the subject of the painting, a color palette and the techniques that can be used. But it doesn't paint. Painting is done at each project team level.

In this cycle, the TC started to drive some simple cross-community goals. The idea is to collectively make visible progress on a given topic over the course of a release cycle, to pay back technical debt or to implement a simple feature across all of OpenStack projects. But this is done as a goal the community agrees to work on, rather than a top-down mandate.

Myth #4: "the TC, due to the Big Tent, prevents proper focus"

This one is interesting, and I think its roots lie in some misunderstanding of open source community dynamics. If you consider a finite set of resources and a zero-sum-game community, then of course adding more projects results in less resources being dedicated to "important projects". But an open community like OpenStack is not a finite set of resources. The people and the organizations in the OpenStack community work and cooperate on a number of projects. Before the big tent, some of those would not be considered part of the OpenStack projects, despite helping with the OpenStack mission and following the OpenStack development principles, and therefore essentially being developed by the OpenStack community.

Considering more (or less) projects as being part of our community doesn't decrease (or increase) focus on "important projects". It's up to each organization in OpenStack to focus on the set of projects it considers important. For more on that, go read Ed Leafe's brilliant blogpost, he expressed it better than I can. Of course there are some efforts (like packaging) where adding more projects results in diluting focus. But with every added project comes new blood in our community (rather than artificially keeping it out), and some of that new blood ends up helping on those efforts. It's not a zero-sum game, and the big tent makes sure we are open to new ways of achieving the OpenStack mission and have an inclusive and welcoming community.

What is the role of the OpenStack Technical Committee

This week we are renewing 6 seats in the 13-member OpenStack Technical Committee. This election has attracted a large number of candidates, which is a great sign that people care about the Technical Committee. At the same time, there is a lot of misconceptions in our community about what the TC is for, what it can or cannot do, and the overlap with other groups. I'll try to clarify that in this post.

A misleading name

Part of the reason why there are so many misconceptions about the role of the TC is that its name is pretty misleading. The Technical Committee is not primarily technical: most of the issues that the TC tackles are open source project governance issues. The TC is not really a committee either: it is a group of elected people who will vote on resolutions and changes that are proposed and which affect OpenStack as a whole. In the US, it is closer to the Supreme Court than to anything else.

The primary role of the TC is to act as the final decision stage when it comes to decision-making in the OpenStack open source project. It is extremely important in an open source project to have a "bucket stops here" body that is empowered to make decisions for the project if consensus and agreement cannot be reached elsewhere -- otherwise it risks complete stand-still. I have been involved in projects which were stuck in such governance grey area, and it is a pretty ugly situation. It's interesting to note that the mere existence of the final decision-making body is enough to achieve consensus at the lower levels: two teams will prefer to find agreement between themselves rather than call for final arbitration by the TC. This is a feature, not a bug.

An evolving mission

The mission of the TC is to lead the development of "OpenStack". As OpenStack evolved into one framework with a lot of collaborating components, each of which developed by project teams with their own governance, the mission of the TC also evolved. Those days we focus on the "OpenStack" experience. What does it mean to be an OpenStack project ? What does it imply in terms of development practices, general principles, common goals, cooperation, minimal QA or user experience ? Is this new group applying to become an official OpenStack project team following enough of those rules to be considered "one of us" ?

Some people would like the TC to single-handedly solve upgrades, scalability, interoperability or end user experience. Some other people would like the TC to let the individual project teams do as they want. Reality is, neither of those extremes are likely to happen. The TC is just 13 (usually busy) people, they can't solve all the issues in OpenStack by themselves. They are elected because we trust them to make the right decisions for OpenStack, not because they are the ultimate 100x engineers who can fix everything. On the other hand, the TC is not powerless: by continuously refining what it means to be an "OpenStack project", it can influence OpenStack project teams to address the right topics. We did that through assert tags, which encouraged teams to improve their upgrade story or adopt a sane feature deprecation policy. We'll do that through release cycle goals, to drive visible improvements across all the components in OpenStack.

Help, please

This is also why the TC needs all the help it can get. I'm excited we now have the Architecture workgroup, an open group of people interested in addressing long-standing architecture issues in OpenStack as a whole. I'm thrilled that we have a Stewardship workgroup, an open group of people encouraging leaders in OpenStack to adopt Servant Leadership practices and tools. We are electing 13 members to vote and make the final calls, but all the ideas don't have to come from those 13 members. If you're a candidate and you're not elected, it doesn't prevent you from working on governance problems and propose changes.

So... If you are an eligible voter, please take the time to read the candidates platform emails and vote. Whoever gets elected, they will need the legitimacy that only a good turnout in elections can give them. And if you are a candidate and don't get elected, please consider joining those open workgroups, and propose governance changes -- keeping "OpenStack" together is definitely not a 13-people task.