Today, OpenStack turns 3. The open source Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) platform, released under the Apache license, launched in July 2010 with a seemingly simple idea: to deliver a ubiquitous open source cloud computing platform for public and private clouds.
Launched in July 2010 with code donated by Rackspace and NASA, OpenStack has become one of the fastest growing open source efforts in technology: More than 500 individuals from more than 200 different companies contributed to its latest release, Grizzly.
Developers have contributed more than 1 million lines of code, and the stack currently has more than 70,000 contributions from more than 120 countries—an average of 238 contributions per month. The first OpenStack Design Summit & Conference, held in July 2010, boasted 75 attendees. The most recent conference, held in April, had 3,000, and the next one is expected to have more.
"It's the most successful software project I've ever been involved with," says John Igoe, vice president of Private Cloud at RackSpace and a founding member of the OpenStack Foundation. Igoe notes that he's been involved with his share of billion dollar software businesses, "but nothing can match this trajectory."
Three Years Ago the Debate Was Around the Definition of Cloud
"Three years ago, there was a huge debate going on in the industry around what the definition of cloud was," says Igoe, who at the time was executive director of Cloud and Big Data Solutions in the Dell Datacenter Solutions group.
"What we were seeing in the industry was that companies with legacy software environments and legacy compute environments were trying to extend their functionality and call it cloud, says Igoe. But you really can't build a cloud-attributed architecture on top of a legacy-attributed architecture."
There was a danger, Igoe says, that clouds would be built on proprietary stacks, leading to vendor lock-in and stifling the possibilities inherent in cloud computing.
OpenStack's advent helped avert that fate. It quickly gained ground with heavyweights like HP, Dell and IBM, as well as many smaller companies, by providing a series of related projects for controlling pools of compute, storage and networking resources, all managed through a single dashboard.
The initiative has come a long way since the early days, Igoe says. He notes that ahead of one of the first meetings, held in San Antonio, Jim Curry, general manager of Rackspace's private cloud business and one of the driving forces behind OpenStack, called him at Dell to ask for a server rack for use at the meeting. Igoe and some of his colleagues at Dell had to rent a horse trailer to deliver the equipment to the meeting. That rack was the first to run the OpenStack software.
"In those early days, everybody that came to the meetings were really software folks and geeks," Igoe says. "It was a developer-focused environment. Open source communities do not thrive unless individual developers sign up for the mission and begin to deliver code.
"We had no governance process," he adds. "It was 50 or 100 engineers coming together and starting to discuss what cloud computing should be."
OpenStack Meetings Are Bursting at the Seams Today
Today the meetings are bursting at the seams, he says. They consistently sell out. Sometimes people travel from across the globe without tickets, just hoping they'll be allowed in the doors.
"Every year we hold two summit meetings," he says. "Each summit has doubled in size. Each summit has been sold out."
As a board member, he says, he's been on the receiving end of a number of calls from people who want to attend the sold-out show, wondering if he has an inside line for tickets. Before the spring 2013 summit in Portland, he got a call from colleagues in Japan, but had to explain that he had no extra tickets.
"They told me, 'We're going to come anyway. We're hoping they'll let us in,'" he says. "When these people show up, the foundation actually lets them attend. That type of growth is unheard of in an open source community."
And the demographics of attendees has changed over the years, Igoe says. Initially, attendees were all developers. But now users and operators are making their presence felt.
"The demographics have evolved," Igoe says. "It's still very much a technical conference; however, in a very rapid way, users and operators have now joined the summit and are heavily involved. It no longer is a technology initiative. It's starting to become a real operational production initiative. The focus now is about users and production environments."
That change means OpenStack faces a number of challenges going forward. First and foremost, he says, are the issues around commercial interests that develop from OpenStack.
"OpenStack as an initiative and open source project has been phenomenally successful," Igoe says. "The challenge we have now is that as we move into the next phase, organizations will want to commercialize OpenStack."
And while those interests are legitimate, he notes, "We have to be very careful not to fork it up."
"The board and foundation need to understand boundaries," he says. "Where is competition good and where is competition bad? Where are we going to encourage competition and monetization without limiting innovation? There needs to be a way that organizations can differentiate around the technology."
To celebrate its third anniversary, OpenStack will hold more than 35 birthday parties all over the world this month and is encouraging folks to join the celebration and share party pictures using the #OpenStack3Bday hashtag. RackSpace, Igoe says, will mark Friday with a company-wide video conference celebration.
The eighth major OpenStack release, Havana, is slated for October.
Thor Olavsrud covers IT Security, Big Data, Open Source, Microsoft Tools and Servers for CIO.com. Follow Thor on Twitter @ThorOlavsrud. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn. Email Thor at firstname.lastname@example.org