UPDATED 11:15 EDT / JANUARY 28 2014


OpenStack doesn’t need a leader, it just needs to evolve

One of the most common arguments made against OpenStack is that it has no dominant leader to set a clear direction. In other words, OpenStack lacks a cohesive vision, and that could lead to it fizzling out some day.

This might be the case, but there are several reasons why this argument is flawed.

While there is certainly value in unified leadership, there are other more powerful forces driving OpenStack beyond leadership alone.

First, those who argue that OpenStack needs a dominant leader fail to understand that the lack of such a leader is its biggest strength. OpenStack’s developers have a certain camaraderie that can be compared to a web of diverse cells, loosely coupled together. This web of developers drives experimentation forward relentlessly: OpenStack is constantly mutating, and it’s a case of survival of the fittest. The best ideas push their way through, and the project moves forward. If there were a “dominant leader,” this consistent progression not be possible.

Second, it should be noted that OpenStack is driven by those who actually use it. OpenStack users don’t just sit back and make a few suggestions – they actually get down to the nitty gritty and create their own code. When there is no exclusive authority dictating a development roadmap, progress comes from professionals with the most valuable expertise who implement most of the demanded functionality. This is evident in organizations like Rackspace and NASA, which helped create OpenStack to begin with, and to this day maintain massive influence over its development.

In a recent report, Wikibon CTO David Floyer was quoted saying:

“It’s very clear [Rackspace and NASA have] made enormous strides in two areas. First, they’ve brought in almost everyone in the industry. Almost all the major vendors are now part of OpenStack– IBM, EMC, Cisco, etc..

The second thing that has changed is that the users who are also part of this foundation are just as much a voice for what OpenStack should be doing. The users have started to put forth real systems, and they’re showing that it’s stable and works and is cost effective.”

Ken Hui, Open Cloud Architect at Rackspace, echoed these sentiments recently at the eighth annual Virtualization Technology Users Group (VTUG) Winter Warmer. Speaking exclusively to Wikibon’s Dave Vellante on theCUBE, Hui explains that OpenStack is different to something like the Linux project, as vendors have been involved in its development from the very beginning.

“We’re in some new territory in that sense,” said Hui. “I don’t necessarily think we need a single leader, I think what we need are leaders who are good at bringing about collaboration.”

“On the vendor side, we need people who can say “I’m in it, not only because I want to push my interest in my company, but because we also want to help drive the adoption of OpenStack the project. And I think if we can do that, we can push some of these [leadership] issues aside.”

The third and perhaps best argument for why OpenStack doesn’t need a leader is the open nature of the beast itself. It’s precisely because there’s no dominant leader that OpenStack remains so transparent and competitive – everyone’s contributions can be seen by everyone else, and this drives people to do even better.

Most likely, those who say OpenStack needs a leader believe so because of history. Previous open-source projects like Java, Linux and Android have all had a “dictator” at the helm, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best path for OpenStack. OpenStack might be analogous with Mother Nature herself. In nature, there are no designs, blueprints or plans – things simply evolve, and those that best adapt to their environment are the ones that survive and thrive.

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