Open source Q&A: OpenStack Foundation board member, Tristan Goode

OpenStack is a collection of open source software for building public and private Clouds. It can be used either by providers that want to deliver infrastructure as a service to customers or enterprises that want a private Cloud for on-demand, self-service provisioning of compute services for departments. The roots of the project, which launched mid-2010, lie in collaboration between NASA and Rackspace. Tristan Goode is the CEO of Aptira and the only Australian on the board of the OpenStack Foundation.

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What has been the driver, both overseas and in Australia, for organisations investing resources in OpenStack?

I’ve said many times that OpenStack is “cloud for the rest of the world”, meaning that innovative and progressive solutions the world over are being developed ground-up on OpenStack, without proprietary constraints. I also think it’s been the fact that OpenStack is incredibly well supported by its community, and its modularity.

The fact that it is open source means that it’s incredibly flexible and this allows organisations to build a cloud to suit their needs. You just can’t get this level of flexibility with any proprietary solution. There is always accessible help from all over the world. It is just a great time to be involved and watching this technology evolve into exactly what people want from cloud.

Do you have any indications about the state of support for OpenStack in Australia?

It’s starting to take hold and interest is growing rapidly. As well as Aptira and Haylix running production, and the NeCTAR research cloud now being federated from Melbourne Uni into Brisbane, Canberra and Perth, I know of at least three other significant local players that are in or very near production. Add to this the many on-premise private clouds, some of which we’ve been involved with and many more that folks are home growing themselves, and it’s clear it’s getting traction.

One indication of the wider awareness is that of the first couple of hundred registrations for linux.conf.au 2013 in Canberra in January, around half the attendees have indicated they will be attending the OpenStack Miniconf on the Tuesday. This compares to no mention of OpenStack at the last linux.conf.au only one year ago.

What do you think is likely to drive OpenStack deployment in Australia? Is there anything holding it back at the moment?

Again, the key driver is that I see OpenStack as “cloud for the rest of the world.” It does give us all a great opportunity to be innovative at home, to develop IP on and around OpenStack with any of that technology having the potential to be the next big thing. This is classic reverse brain drain. The interest I’ve seen from as far and wide as Vietnam, South Africa and Brazil confirm this.

I also come back to the data sovereignty issue as another driver. In spite of what any cloud provider might tell you about offering local contracts and the like, it is still a grey area, and I wouldn’t want to be a test case should a seizure condition arise.

I’d also much rather seek legal redress through the Australian legal system than a foreign system. There is still some reluctance to cloud adoption in Australia, but this is starting to fade. We have seen deployments of on-premise private clouds in Australia that have gotten people comfortable with cloud technologies in a familiar environment, and this is naturally leading enterprises towards hybrid and public cloud deployments.

How is the Australian OpenStack community organised at the moment? Do you have any plans on that front, in terms of more meetups around the country, or possible conferences?

We have an “umbrella” group that is used to organise events around the state capitals. An example is an upcoming event in late November, where we’ll hook Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne together via video link and present across the locations.

Most significantly we are starting to share event organising across the nation. Local people are stepping up and project managing their home town events. It was recently discussed at the OpenStack Summit that communication between user groups around the world needs to be enhanced, so we’re trying to lead the way by holding our meetups in new ways. I’ve also been working with the OpenStack Foundation on forming an effective information portal to facilitate inter-user-group communications across the world.

I expect conferences will have much more OpenStack involvement during 2013. PyConAU in July was another conference [with] little OpenStack activity this past year, but next year it also will have an entire day around OpenStack.

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What do you think your role should be as a board member?

Quite simply, I’m there by mandate and not money, so I take upholding the project's principles and the mission of the foundation very seriously. I represent individual contributors and this includes small to medium businesses like my own, so I always want to make sure I communicate with everyone I can in the community so there is real community input.

I think I bring a freshness to Board operations, so I see my role as representing the regular person and in doing so making sure communications from the Board are presented in ways that everyone understands. I also get to ask the occasional “dumb” question; with the Board meetings being an almost completely public affair, I’m sure some of us listening would like to ask these questions from time to time.

How do you think OpenStack Foundation is going so far, in terms of community input? Do you think there are processes that need strengthening?

Considering what we’re doing with the foundation on this scale and in this way hasn’t really been done before, I think we’re doing extremely well. Sure not everything has come together perfectly, but that’s always part of a spawning process and there’s certainly no red flags coming up. The healthy discussions you see on the mailing lists seem to strike chords with Board representatives and get seen, heard and addressed continuously by Board members, so that’s indicative that things are working.

Are you happy with the foundation's current structure?

It’s really early days and as I said, I’m learning how to bring everyone’s concerns to the table so the board will really represent the entire community’s opinions. We have a great make up on the Board now. We have some international representation (five of the 24 seats, so not quite enough yet), [and] we have a great cross section of people that have been involved with OpenStack in many ways. It’s not unlikely that the foundation’s structure will evolve over time, but the main thing is this: because of the strength of community spirit within the foundation, anyone trying to unduly influence the project’s direction will soon be called out and dealt with.

Do you see any threat to the project being too closely linked to some of the cloud providers involved in it? For example, OpenStack is pretty closely associated with Rackspace, given its role in getting it started.

In Rackspace’s case, I think that risk has now been eliminated. It’s been an interesting process for them I’m sure, perhaps some in Rackspace may have had trouble “letting go of their baby,” but to their credit they’ve made a great effort in doing so and we are all now getting the benefits of that.

It was a good move on Rackspace’s part to put OpenStack out there; without it, I don't think the project would be where it is now and certainly on its way to being the ubiquitous cloud computing platform. I quite liked Chris Kemp’s declaration at the summit that we are well on our way now to determining how Amazon will interact with OpenStack, and not how OpenStack will interact with Amazon.

Some people have been concerned over VMware joining the project. What's your view? Do you think it strengthens or weakens the project?

I can understand the concerns, as I’m on record prior to their admission voicing some of these concerns myself. But I believe in the Australian concept of a “fair go,” so in that spirit I voted for their inclusion, and, if it doesn’t work out or go the way that the OpenStack [project] desires, the board does have the ability to remove them. My experience with them however, as recently as the San Diego summit, has been that they are genuine and we are working with them to deliver the best of OpenStack and VMware to our customers.

Rohan Pearce is the editor of Techworld Australia and Computerworld Australia. Contact him at rohan_pearce at idg.com.au.

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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