The OpenStack Big Tent and Magnum

One of the most heavily-attended design summit events at last week's OpenStack Summit in Paris was on Magnum, a proposed service for containers that would integrate into the Nova compute service. It seems that any session at any conference these days that involves Docker attracts a lot of interest, as Docker is an amazing new way of approaching how we think about virtualization and achieving efficiencies of scale.

Disclaimer: I know Adrian Otto, the leader of the Magnum project, from my days at Rackspace, and genuinely like him. I have no doubt that he would be able to put together a team that can accomplish all that he is setting out to do with this project. My thoughts and concerns about Magnum would be the same no matter who was leading the project.

The goal of the Magnum session was to present its concept and proposed architecture to the Nova ganttteam, with the hope of being designated as the official Docker project in OpenStack. However, there was a lot of push back from many members of the Nova team. Some of it had to do with procedural issues; I learned later that Magnum had been introduced at the Nova mid-cycle meetup, and the expectations set then had not been met. I wasn't at that meetup, so I can't personally attest to that. But the overall sentiment was that it was just too premature to settle on one specific approach to something as important and fast-moving as Docker. While I support the idea of Magnum and hope that it is a wild success, I also think that world of Docker/containers is moving so fast that what looks good today may look totally different 6 months from now. Moving such a project into OpenStack proper would only slow it down, and right now it needs to remain as nimble as possible.

I wrote a little while ago about my thoughts on the current discussions on the Big Tent vs. Layers vs. Small Core (Simplifying OpenStack), and I think that the Magnum effort is an excellent example of why we need to modify the approach to how we handle projects like this that add to OpenStack. The danger of the current Big Tent system of designating a single effort as the official OpenStack solution to a given problem is that by doing so we might be discouraging some group with a different and potentially better solution from pursuing development, and that would short-change the OpenStack ecosystem long-term. Besides, a little competition usually improves overall software quality, right?

OpenStack Paris Summit – Growing Up

I've just returned from the 5-day-long OpenStack Summit, and after a very long day of travel, my brain is still slightly crispy, but I wanted to record some impressions of the summit. Since it was held in Paris, there are a lot of non-technical experiences I may write about, but for now I'll limit my thoughts to those concerning OpenStack.

For those who don't know my history, I was one of the original OpenStack developers who began the project in 2010, and participated in all of the early summits. After two years I changed roles in my job, which meant that I was no longer actively contributing to OpenStack, so I no longer was able to attend the summits. But now that I'm back as a full-time contributor in my role at IBM, I eagerly anticipated re-acquainting myself with the community, which had evolved since I had last been an active member.

First, let me say how impressive it is to see this small project we started grow into the truly international phenomenon it has become. The sheer number of people and exhibitors who came to Paris to be involved in the world of OpenStack was amazing: the latest count I saw was over 4,600 attendees, which contrasts with around 70 at the initial summit in Austin.

Second, during my hiatus away from active development on OpenStack many of the active core contributors to Nova have moved on, and a whole new group has taken their place. In the months leading up to the summit I got to know many of them via IRC and the dev email list, but had never met them in person. One thing about OpenStack development that has always been true is that it's very personal: you get to know the people involved, and have a good sense of what they know and how they work. It is this personal familiarity that forms the basis of how the core developers are selected: trust. There is no test or anything like that; once you've demonstrated that you contribute good code, that you understand the way the various parts fit together, that you can take constructive criticism of your code, and that you can offer constructive criticism on others' code, eventually one of the existing core members nominates you to become core. The other cores affirm that choice if they agree. Rarely have I seen anyone nominated for core who was rejected by the group; instead, the reaction usually is along the lines of "oh, I thought they were core already!". As one of my goals in the coming year is to once again become a core Nova developer, getting to meet much of the current core team was a great step in that direction.

And lastly, while the discussions about priorities for the Kilo cycle were lively, there was almost none of the polarizing disagreements that were part of Nova's early days. I believe that Nova has reached a maturity level where everyone involved can see where the weak points are, and agree on the need to fix them, even if opinions on just how to do that differed. A great example was the discussion on what to do about Cells: do we fix the current approach, or do we shift to a different, simpler approach that will get us most, but not all, of what the current code can do, but with a cleaner, more maintainable design. After a few minutes of discussion the latter path was chosen, and we moved on to discussing how to start making that change. While I miss the fireworks of previous summit sessions, I much prefer the more cooperative atmosphere. We really must be growing up!