How OpenStack is listening to the community and improving the project

OpenStack Foundation has identified key areas to improve engagement with its growing community.

OpenStack Summit
Swapnil Bhartiya

Pictured: Thierry Carrez, VP of Engineering at OpenStack Foundation, and Lauren Sell, VP of Marketing & Community Services at OpenStack Foundation on stage at OpenStack Summit, Boston 

OpenStack is growing at an unprecedented rate. According to Jonathan Bryce, Executive Director at OpenStack Foundation, OpenStack deployments are enjoying a 44 percent year-on-year growth. More than 50 percent of Fortune 100 companies are now using OpenStack.

With growth comes new sets of challenges and opportunities.

This explosive growth of OpenStack also means explosive growth of the community around this project. And it’s very critical for any open source project to listen to and address the needs of the community.

OpenStack Foundation recently organized a Leadership summit where they brought in around 40 leaders from the board, the technical committee and the users committee to discuss where the project is heading, what are the problem areas and how they can improve.

During the OpenStack Summit, Lauren Sell (VP, marketing and community services) and Thierry Carrez (VP, engineering) of the OpenStack foundation highlighted the five key areas that they are working on to improve the community experience.

Communication: OpenStack has grown so massive that it has created some confusion around what exactly OpenStack is. Sell said that one of the focus areas of the OpenStack community is to clearly define what is in the actual OpenStack project and what’s not in there. They are also creating a list of official projects so the larger developer and user community is aware of the core OpenStack, without getting intimidated by the sheer size of the project.

Feedback loop: Typically there are two different communities around any Open Source project, the users who deploy these projects in production and developers who work on the code base and push code upstream. One of the common challenges for any open source project is being able to translate what users need into what goes into upstream. To bring these two diverse communities together OpenStack is organizing a new format for community discussion at the summit called ‘Forum’ where everyone — users and developers — will come together on the same table so that users' needs can find their way into the upstream.

Complexity: OpenStack is almost seven years old, and over time it has grown bigger. It has become overly complex. There is a lot of unused code and features there. The community is now working on removing unused features and pruning options. They are also looking at killing projects that are not going anywhere.

Adjacent Communities: The complexity and size of OpenStack at times gives the impression that it’s a monolithic project that means all or nothing, or in other words you have to install all the sub projects that are part of it. There is a perception that you can’t deploy other technologies on OpenStack deployments and have to only use what’s part of the project. In reality, however, OpenStack is building blocks for infrastructure where different projects can be used together, as stand alone or integrated with other technologies developed by other projects. To better educate OpenStack users about these adjacent communities, OpenStack is organizing Open Source Days at the Summit to bring all of these adjacent communities together and help educate OpenStack users about their projects and how they can make better use of those technologies. Kubernetes is a good example of one such adjacent community.

Growing new Community Leaders: As the OpenStack project is growing, so is the user-base and the community around it. Now OpenStack has to look at scaling the process to support new leaders. They are working on creating clear paths for new leaders to rise up. They are looking at areas to improve their processes to make it more friendly not only for direct users of OpenStack but also towards different factors like times zones and cultures as leaders are evolving from all around the globe, especially China.

All these efforts by the OpenStack leadership to listen to the community and actually take steps to ensure it continues to grow are good signs of a healthy open source project.

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