Yesterday I wrote a post about OpenStack and talked about the concerns among the developers that there is too much emphasis given to marketing than engineering.
Yesterday, we publicly came to know about how OpenStack developers from the original Anso Labs team are quitting Rackspace to Nebula, it raises some troubling questions. OpenStackers dismiss this news by saying that they are going to another OpenStack company and hence it doesn’t affect the project in any way. Their argument is that if at all it has any impact, it will be on Rackspace and it could be a problem with the culture there. I may agree with this assessment but though my interactions with various stakeholders, I have found that there is still a criticism among the developer community that most of the money is spent on marketing efforts than engineering efforts. I don’t discount the importance of marketing even for an open source project but any implication that engineering problems can be swept under the carpet purely through their marketing muscle is dangerous for the project in the long run. We need more openness in the transactions than in the past. Secrecy is not in the DNA of any open source project and OpenStack can be no different. I think having a Linus Torvalds, a guy who only focusses on the long term success of the Linux project and doesn’t hesitate to say no to anyone on anything if he sees it as detrimental to the project, for OpenStack will be in the best interests of the project.
I also promised on Twitter that I will do a rebuttal post today. As an analyst I feel that I should be able to see a problem from all angles and not dismiss the other side of the coin fast. In that spirit, I am going to look at the concern from another point of view.
For a moment let us take a look at the competition for OpenStack. They have public cloud providers like Amazon Web Services, Windows Azure, Google Compute Engine, etc. and on the other hand they have to fend off VMware, Citrix, Eucalyptus and numerous other proprietary and open source cloud infrastructure platforms. It is a highly competitive space with lot of money (read VMware) and charisma (read Marten Mickos) working hard to put them in a corner. Imagine the FUD unleashed by VMware, Citrix and Eucalyptus about OpenStack. Marten Mickos went on stage at the Structure Conference and called OpenStack the Soviet Union of Cloud. Any organization faced with such FUD will be forced to spend a big chunk of their financial war chest on marketing. First, they need to counter the FUD and then they need to push their product in the market. It is not an easy task and it cannot be achieved with a few press releases here and there. Just look at one of the points I raised under The Bad section of yesterday’s post. A small service provider still thinks OpenStack is not reliable when we have Rackspace and HP betting their cloud on OpenStack. This is clearly a result of the FUD that is going on against OpenStack. If we see from this point of view, OpenStack (and, even, Rackspace) spending so much money on marketing is justifiable. It should not be seen as an effort to shove the dirt under the carpet using marketing but a fight for survival waged by a relatively young project in a competitive marketplace.
But the problem is
If a proprietary company was spending similar amounts of money on marketing, there won’t be any criticism and it will be seen as a good strategy. Open source world is dominated by developers who had dedicated their life to geekdom. They get their orgasm seeing the code in a terminal window. It will be difficult for these developers to see a rationale for spending obscene amounts of money in marketing. In my opinion, this is what is happening inside OpenStack now. Yes, it is possible for companies behind OpenStack project to spend truckloads of money in marketing. Citrix spent over 200 Million for an Apache project. However, it will be taken by developers under stride if the open source project is completely controlled by the vendor (like how Eucalyptus was running their project till sometime back). Unfortunately, OpenStack is a community driven project without a benevolent dictator like Linus Torvalds. All community driven projects are dominated by the whims and fancies of developers. They will prefer to spend any money on engineering over marketing. I guess this is exactly what is happening in the OpenStack community now. At this point, I think, we just have to grab the popcorn and wait for them to sort things out.