OpenStack spun out from Rackspace control

OpenStack developers plan to start a nonprofit foundation to guide the cloud technology's development

Responding to the rapid adoption of their software, the folks behind the OpenStack cloud software are planning to form a stand-alone nonprofit foundation to steward future development of the open-source software suite.

They will formally announce the foundation Thursday at the OpenStack conference, being held this week in Boston.

Hosting provider Rackspace, which currently owns the OpenStack trademark and copyrights, plans to transfer ownership of these resources to the not-for-profit foundation once it is operational.

Much like how the Linux Foundation provides a supporting structure for the largely independent development of the Linux kernel, so too will the OpenStack Foundation provide the support structure for the third-party development of OpenStack, the founders said.

Thus far, the organizers haven't determined the specifics of how the foundation will be run. They will solicit feedback from users and contributors about the best model to use, said Jonathan Bryce, chairman of the OpenStack project policy board.

"The moment we decided we wanted to do it, we wanted to tell everyone. Otherwise people wouldn't feel they were involved in the decision-making process," added Mark Collier, Rackspace vice president of business development.

Collier noted that the foundation probably would not radically change how the OpenStack software development process is managed.

Currently, OpenStack is actually made up of several different projects, each devoted to building a separate OpenStack module, for functions such as compute, storage and dashboard. Each project has an elected technical lead who manages the project. Re-elections are held every six months. All the project leaders also participate in the policy board, which decides on projectwide issues.

"There is not a lot that needs to be fixed," Collier said. "We just felt that [it was time to] give the intellectual property assets an independent home, and to not be tied to any one company."

Many OpenStack contributors expressed concerned that Rackspace controlled the intellectual property around OpenStack. They wanted to avoid the control issues that emerged when Oracle purchased Sun Microsystems, which had managed open-source technologies such as Java and MySQL.

People "actually called it 'The Oracle Problem," Bryce said. "They are afraid someone, like Oracle, would buy Rackspace."

Rackspace and NASA launched OpenStack in 2010. Researchers at the NASA Ames Research Center first developed the base components of OpenStack, called NOVA, to provide the U.S. space and aeronautical agency with a highly scalable private cloud.

Since the 2010 launch, more than 100 organizations have contributed to the code base or participated in the project in some other form. Both Dell and Hewlett-Packard are building commercial cloud products using OpenStack as a base. A number of startups, including Internap, Nebula and Piston Cloud Computing, have been created to vend OpenStack-based products and services as well.

Organizations such as Disney, Sony, Fidelity and the CERN European Organization for Nuclear Research all have used the software to build private clouds. Rackspace also uses the software to support pieces of its own operations.

"When you look at really successful open-source projects, the least common denominator is always a great governance process and an independent foundation that acts in the interest of the community," said Chris Kemp, who is CEO of Nebula and was the NASA Ames chief information officer who managed the development of NOVA.

The foundation should ensure that OpenStack remains an open platform, from which many companies can innovate and compete, he said. "The interests of the whole will effectively guide the project," Kemp said.

Piston CEO Joshua McKenty also praised the foundation as being an important step, as it should set clear guidelines for what third-party companies need to do to offer OpenStack-branded products and services.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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