July 22, 2010

OSCON Summarized: Community, Cash, and Clouds

OSCON is worth attending, or at least watching from a distance, if for no other reason than it gives a pretty clear picture of what the developer community and industry around open source is thinking about. To sum up OSCON 2010 in three words, it's community, cash, and clouds.

Code is in there somewhere, too, but it's more or less assumed you're talking about code when you talk about OSCON. Great event, but not so much at OSCON for the admin set.

So why cash, community, and clouds? Obviously, cloud services or software have generated the biggest buzz in the last year. A hefty number of talks have touched on cloud in one way or another. OSCON always draws a lot of community talks, and there's also the usual set of "how do we make money on this open source thing?" talks. So far I haven't heard anything new or innovative on the topic of making money with open source at OSCON 2010, but it's very much on people's minds.

The biggest announcement, or at least the announcement with the most buzz on the floor, involved all three of the C words: Rackspace's OpenStack. What's that? If you haven't caught all the press about it, OpenStack is a fully open source stack for organizations to provide cloud computing services on standard hardware. It's all available under the Apache 2.0 license and it's all about clouds, cash, and community. The cloud connection is obvious.

Cash? OpenStack is about saving cash for organizations, by helping them avoid lock-in. To deploy OpenStack, you're going to have to spend money somewhere, but organizations will have a choice how they want to spread the money around and if they want to invest in their own infrastructure, manpower, and deployment time, or if they want to pay a vendor like Rackspace to handle most of that for them.

Community? The developers and folks I spoke to at OSCON were pretty excited about OpenStack. It's the right software at the right time, and from an organization that's been doing good things by the community. Rackspace racked up some significant goodwill earlier this year when they hired most of the Drizzle team away from the dying husk of Sun and let them continue doing Drizzle development. Several of the folks I spoke to were eager to be involved with OpenStack on some level. They've also tapped into the right side of the open core debate by being fully open with OpenStack, as opposed to offering proprietary services on top of an open core. Not that the open core model is inherently wrong, but it doesn't float well with community. Customers, usually, but the developer community doesn't generally get as enthused about an open core project.

It's All Too Much!

Of course, that's not all that OSCON is about. The event has something like nine tracks running concurrently on Wednesday through Friday, with six regular sessions during each track. Plus a slew of short keynotes, and after-hours birds of a feather, plus more vendor parties than you can shake a stick at in the evening. It would not be entirely untrue to say that the common theme running through every OSCON I've attended is "free alcohol," mixed liberally with developers.

There's far too much to take in at the event, is the bottom line. It takes some work to narrow down a schedule of talks to the most important and also leave enough time to hit the exhibit hall and participate in the "hallway track."

What's Missing?

What isn't at OSCON? Well, lots of things aren't at OSCON, but one thing that's really caught my notice is the fact that Linux doesn't get much attention at OSCON. This has been true for a few years, but it seems particularly evident this year. Scanning the talks, I find almost nothing related to distribution development.

At first glance this might seem a bit worrying, but it's really just a sign of how mainstream Linux has become coupled with the fact that Linux has its own very healthy ecosystem of shows. We've got LinuxCon coming up in August, Linux.conf.au in January, and a slew of LinuxFests (like Ohio LinuxFest coming up in September) year-round. Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, and openSUSE each have their own community events, and so on. The open source community has grown mainstream enough, and diverse enough, that OSCON can address a subset of the open source developer audience and still be bursting at the seams.

If you haven't attended an OSCON, and you do development around open source applications, databases, mobile devices, or Web and cloud services, I strongly recommend it. Especially now that O'Reilly has returned OSCON to Portland after an ill-advised year of exile in California. The company runs a tight ship and puts on a great program. See you in Portland in 2011!

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