Apache Software Foundation reels from software dev problems laid bare

When Linux and the open source software movement started making great strides 15 years ago, many detractors claimed open source would be a risky bet in the enterprise space, having to rely on a "community" to iron out bugs and advance features in software.

Those same detractors may have had worn a wry smile if they had attended one of the main keynotes at this week's ApacheCon event in Budapest, where the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) laid bare the problems it is now facing in driving open source software development forward.

The fact that Apache servers still underpin most of the internet infrastructure, that Linux owns a huge chunk in the server operating system market, and that CloudStack is carving out a niche for itself as a cloud orchestration tool, may well become slightly sullied if the ASF cannot straighten itself out.

Delegates at the keynote heard about a litany of failures and shortcomings at the ASF, seemingly mainly caused by the fact that the organisation remains a community organisation that relies on volunteers - who are rapidly disappearing.

David Nalley, VP of infrastructure at the ASF, outlined to delegates the problems the organisation is facing in his keynote titled 'Where is Apache Infrastructure Going?'

He said: "There are cultural issues and attitudes that need to change. We are the service provider and not the Foundation's policemen, we are there to simply serve the projects."

Nalley said his team could not be responsible for carefully overseeing everything and called for more automation and simplicity in developing and approving new open source software.

He said: "We attended a CIO and CTO event recently and they said to us they would have expected our budget to be 10 times what it was for developing the infrastructure we are involved in, that's why we are moving to more automation in publishing releases and other contributions."

He explained that the ASF's own infrastructure was creaking under the pressure from being responsible for a burgeoning number of software projects. The ASF is still struggling to recover from a major network and email outage this year, which Nalley said would still take months to fully rectify through the use of a contractor.

He said: "We have 10-year-old services that were built by people who for one reason or another are no longer with us, and that infrastructure was designed to support about 10 projects, not the 150 we are now dealing with, and the 200 I expect we'll have to deal with soon."

Nalley said the organisation was now planning to bring in paid external consultants rather than rely on volunteers to "add value" and get work done quicker.

Asked by one delegate how the ASF squared using propietary non-open source tools to complete some ASF projects, Nalley replied: "The ideological me may want to only use open source tools, but sometimes we have to use the best tools to support the projects - we can't throw out the baby with the bath water."

Nalley added: "I am perfectly happy to admit we will not make everyone happy."

The point made about proprietary software use was like a lit touch paper for the audience, who one after another listed a litany of shortcomings: the ASF password management was over-complicated with multiple passwords having to be used, the ASF was backing unworkable tools or services to support projects, and the ASF was not keeping contributors up to date with project progress, for instance.

Nalley responded: "We're sluggish to communicate, it used to be more implicit when we were smaller, I don't know how we're going to solve it. When we were a smaller organisation there was always someone there to deal with specific issues."

He said the ASF now wanted to move to a situation where it could make decisions that "were good for three to five years". He said the ASF therefore wanted input to "decide where the ASF is going".

On the fallout from the keynote, Giles Sirett, who is involved in the ASF CloudStack project, and who is also CEO of CloudStack integrator ShapeBlue, said: "We are not a trade show, you get the warts and all here as we are an open conference."

He said: "The founding ethos of the ASF is to give away software for the greater good. The ASF hasn't done anything wrong, but the world has moved on as people realise they can make money out of open source software.

"Who knows, the ASF may need to pay for an infrastructure team and just get on with it? But all the ASF does at the moment is provide a framework and the governance, and its turnover is only $1m a year."

This story, "Apache Software Foundation reels from software dev problems laid bare" was originally published by Techworld.com.

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