The 2nd Tenet of Open Source: Bet on the Community, Not the Current State of Technology

Unix or Linux of Cloud?

I recently spoke with an analyst who asked me about Marten Mickos’ comment at GigaOm Structure that “OpenStack, rather than following in Linux’ footsteps, could become ‘the Unix of cloud.’ The implication was that so many vendors weighing in could lead to a forking or fracturing of the OpenStack standard.”  Similarly, many others have recently been asking if OpenStack would become the “Linux of  Cloud?”

No, the Linux of Cloud is Linux.  However, the thrust behind either of these questions essentially boils down to: When evaluating open source technologies for cloud, how do you pick a winner?  How do you know if a project is going to succeed like Linux or fracture and decline like Unix?

The answer is the 2nd Tenet of Open Source: Bet on the Community, Not the Current State of Technology.

Why Linux Succeeded

I joined Red Hat back in 2002 before we first released Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL).  I can tell you—and no one at Red Hat will dispute this—that RHEL was inferior to Solaris and other Unix variants in many ways back then.  So, how were we able to succeed with RHEL, and why has Linux won against Unix?  We had three things going for us:

  • An unbeatable value combination of open source software on commodity x86 hardware
  • A Linux distribution that enterprises could trust due to the certification of hardware vendors and ISVs, support, and stable and predictable releases with good lifecycles (RHEL)
  • A large and growing open source community driving fast innovation into Linux

The first two features were what earned Red Hat the right to have conversations with enterprises about switching from Unix to Linux.  Enterprises were willing to listen to us because of our value and enterprise promises.  But, it was this large and diverse open source community that enabled us to win the industry.

Winning With Open Source

If you would have evaluated what operating system to use as the basis of enterprise datacenters back in 2002 based on the current state of technology back then, certainly Unix would have won that comparison over Linux.  But, Linux had such a large number of contributors and developers across the open source community that its pace of innovation eclipsed what any of the Unix vendors could achieve, and Linux eventually overtook Unix from a capability standpoint.

Consider that even today, Red Hat only has about 5,000 employees.  At its height, Sun Microsystems employed over 38,000 employees.  Back in 2002, we only had a few hundred employees.  But, in the open source model, Red Hat didn’t have to write all the features of Linux.  Instead, we had partners like IBM, Intel, HP, Dell, and many others contributing to Linux to optimize and advance it to run on their platforms.  Since 2005, just to the Linux kernel alone, the open source community for Linux has included:

It was the size, diversity, and strength of this open source community that propelled Linux to its leadership position against Unix.  Contrast that with Unix, where you had many different vendors each advancing their own proprietary operating systems with no code sharing or common hardware platforms or integrated community.  The united Linux community easily advanced Linux past each of these Unix fiefdoms, and the rest is history.  Unix started with a much stronger technology base, but Linux’s community won in the end.

OpenStack and Open Source

Now, let’s consider the currents state of OpenStack technology and community.  From a technology standpoint, OpenStack has certainly come a long ways quite quickly.  But, it is not yet widely deployed or more advanced than many other IaaS cloud technologies in the market.  And, there are a number of cloud offerings that have been available for much longer than OpenStack has existed, including open source projects like Eucalyptus or  Indeed, at Red Hat, we don’t think OpenStack is quite enterprise-ready yet for the majority of the market.

But, what an open source community OpenStack is building!  For its most recent Essex release, OpenStack had some impressive numbers, including:

  • 421,695 lines of code added and 256,904 lines of code removed
  • 217 developers contributed
  • 100 unique employers contributed

No, these aren’t yet at the scale of Linux, but they are clearly a sign of a rapidly growing and healthy community.  In fact, with the announcement earlier this spring that OpenStack is finally moving to an open governance structure, Red Hat joined the new OpenStack foundation as a platinum member.  And, we aim to provide the same combination of value, enterprise-class distribution, and rapid open source development in OpenStack that we did for Linux.

So, what is the effect of OpenStack’s large open source community?  Is it hurting OpenStack and devolving it into the Unix of tomorrow compared with other open source cloud technologies?  Google Trends, though by no means a definitive prophet, offers an interesting view.  Here is a comparison of OpenStack, Eucalyptus,, and CloudStack:

What’s the difference between these different open source projects?  OpenStack has the largest open source community.

Betting on OpenStack

Today, Red Hat announced the availability of its preview release of our upcoming Red Hat OpenStack product.  Why just a preview and not a full product yet?  We are currently in the process of bringing the same value proposition to OpenStack that we have done for Linux and many other open source products, from JBoss to Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization:

  • An unbeatable value combination of open source software on commodity x86 hardware
  • An OpenStack distribution that enterprises can trust due to the certification of hardware vendors and ISVs, support, and stable and predictable releases with good lifecycles
  • A large and growing open source community driving fast innovation into OpenStack

For the value proposition, we are building our OpenStack product as a completely open source offering, optimized for our RHEL-based KVM hypervisor on commodity x86 hardware.  We are integrating OpenStack with the rest of our Open Hybrid Cloud portfolio, including CloudForms and OpenShift.  We are in the process of hardening OpenStack into an enterprise-grade distribution, and this preview release is an important milestone in that process.

And, is the ecosystem around OpenStack going to splinter like so many Unix variants?  Or, is it going to advance the pace of advancement in OpenStack?  Time will tell.  But, at Red Hat, as part of our Open Hybrid Cloud strategy, we are all in betting that OpenStack will advance.  Unlike with Unix, the OpenStack community is all contributing to the same code base as part of the same structure—like Linux’s community and unlike Unix’s fiefdoms.  The new OpenStack foundation is only going to help with that.  And, the OpenStack community is working together.

Consider some of the partner quotes we got today supporting our OpenStack preview release, including from Cisco, Dell, Intel, and Rackspace.  Does this list look similar to the partners that we have around Linux?  This is a group of companies that knows how to collaborate around an open source ecosystem.

OpenStack is going to advance, and we are betting it will win.  The technology today is not yet where it needs to be.  But, neither was Linux when it took on Unix.  The open source community—not the initial or current state of technology in 2002—is what propelled Linux to victory against proprietary Linux.  And, open source versus proprietary is really the name of the game here.  How will OpenStack fare against its proprietary and closed alternatives?  Here is one indicator:

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