Exactly What Is OpenStack? Red Hat’s Rich Bowen Explains


You’ve probably heard of OpenStack. It’s in the tech news a lot, and it’s an important open source project. But what exactly is it, and what is it for? Rich Bowen of Red Hat provided a high-level view of OpenStack as a software project, an open source foundation, and a community of organizations in his talk at LinuxCon North America.

OpenStack is a software stack that went from small to industry darling at warp speed. It has three major components: The compute service runs the virtual machines (VMs), and it has a networking service and a storage service, plus a dashboard to run everything. OpenStack is only six years old, and was born as a solution devised by Rackspace and NASA to solve a specific problem.

Bowen says, “NASA had this problem where they were taking photographs, and individual photographs were going to take several months to upload to their AWS instances, because these photographs were terabytes and petabytes big, pictures of space from the Hubble Space Telescope. Rackspace, on the other hand, was running a very successful web hosting and VM hosting business, and they were looking for a way to automate the process of creating new VMs without actually having to have engineers go press buttons. These two organizations realized that they were solving similar and overlapping problems, and they started the OpenStack project.”

OpenStack is an open source foundation. What does that mean? Bowen tells us one of the biggest values of an open source foundation: “Vendor-neutral governance is very important in open source projects. With the vendor-neutral governance that is offered, that is enforced by the foundation, it ensures that everybody has an equal voice. It also ensures project sustainability. This is an important thing in any major open source project. If HP or Red Hat or Mirantis were suddenly to lose interest in the OpenStack project, it wouldn’t go away.”

OpenStack is a community organization. From its humble beginning, OpenStack has grown to more than 55,000 members, including more than 600 companies. The foundation covers 57 separate, semi-autonomous projects, which could be viewed as a semi-organized cat herd. Bowen says, “The projects themselves make their own technical decisions. Now, they have to submit to the judgment of the technical committee, because interoperability between projects is obviously pretty important. The technical decisions, the road maps are decided at the project level rather than at the foundation level. OpenStack provides open governance for these projects, and each project elects what’s called a project technical lead. In most projects, decision making is completely collaborative and done on the mailing list.”

Watch Rich Bowen’s talk (below) to learn how open code, open governance, and open discussion all operate to help create great communities that produce great software like OpenStack.



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