The Process to Make OpenStack a Product

September 19, 2012

Red Hat OpenStack Team

With the OpenStack Foundation now officially launched today, it's worth taking a moment to consider what will be needed for commercial enterprises and other large organizations to make use of the open source software being developed under the Foundation's aegis.

A huge community is contributing to OpenStack. More than 180 participating companies and 400 contributing developers have produced six software releases in just a little over two years. Some organizations will choose to leverage all that innovation directly by implementing, testing, patching and supporting community releases on their own. However, as with Linux, typical businesses may rely on a vendor such as Red Hat, which has deep expertise in and day-to-day involvement with the upstream development process—enabling it to deliver software that is ready for the enterprise out-of-the-box.

The many organizations around the globe who use Red Hat Enterprise Linux, JBoss Enterprise Middleware, Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization, Red Hat CloudForms and other Red Hat solutions already understand the benefits of a Red Hat subscription and some of the processes that Red Hat follows to deliver that value. However, for those who may be interested in deploying OpenStack but are less familiar with Red Hat, we’d like to share how we work with communities and deliver that innovation in the form of subscriptions that customers rely on to run their business. We do this for our wide range of products today. We plan to offer an enterprise subscription for OpenStack based on the upcoming “Folsom” release.

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It all starts with the upstream community
Collaborating through upstream projects is at the heart of the economic and business model that makes open source such an effective way to develop software. Red Hat leverages the work done by vibrant open source communities such as OpenStack, thereby allowing our customers to take advantage of the work done by hundreds of companies and individual developers, not just Red Hat. However, working through communities isn't about just taking open source code and doing the downstream testing and hardening necessary to make it into a commercial product.

Rather, it's about participating in upstream communities as contributors and having a policy that drives code enhancements and fixes into the upstream. In many cases, Red Hat employees are among the key maintainers of and contributors to those upstream projects. This helps ensure that we take the greatest advantage of the strengths associated with open source development and that we maintain the technology expertise to provide fast and knowledgeable support to our customers.

Much of this work involves working closely with partners such as chip and system vendors. At a low level, take ACPI-based power management, for example. It's a hardware specification and interface for controlling the power consumption of a processor by offering mechanisms to dynamically change processor speed or to put processors in low power sleep states. Implementing such capabilities requires working with processor vendors such as Intel and AMD; system vendors such as IBM, HP and Dell who must decide how their systems designs and BIOSs support ACPI; and upstream Linux kernel maintainers to extend system schedulers and other subsystems as needed. While proprietary vendors work with partners as well, the level and scope of participation is often greatly enhanced with open source.

But this story of collaboration goes well beyond hardware enablement.

Red Hat has been working with Cisco for some time to enhance the capabilities of the Infinispan community project and features being created right now for the upcoming JBoss Data Grid 6.1 release based on that upstream project. Erik Salter summarized some of this work during a JBoss World session in June during which he discussed details of a video-on-demand service that he and his team at Cisco developed using an Infinispan cluster for session setup and management.

The story also goes beyond vendors.

Red Hat has a long history of working closely with technically sophisticated and demanding customers to improve Linux across a wide range of metrics such as scalability, real-time performance and security. However, this is a process that Red Hat follows across all of our products. For example, we have worked with a wide range of customers on industry standard specifications such as AMQP messaging and OASIS Web Services. Increasingly, customers are not only involved with the process of developing the software on which they base their business. They’re driving the agenda.

Turning projects into products
Red Hat also has a well-established process for turning open source projects into enterprise subscription products that satisfy the reliability and other requirements of some of the world's most challenging and mission-critical applications in markets such as financial services, government and telecommunications.

Much of this work isn't visible and exciting the way that developing new features and capabilities in the upstream project often is. But, to our customers, it's absolutely necessary. It consists of extensive testing, tuning and troubleshooting across a wide range of hardware, configurations and applications. It is the day-in, day-out work of getting the details right and making sure all the moving parts mesh together and work properly. It relies on having the people, processes and the system and infrastructure to do the job. Even more importantly, it requires the corporate resources and commitment to do it and do it right.

Done properly, the outcome is somewhat boring—systems that just work. Predictable behavior. A lack of exciting failures. Even a good night's sleep for system admins. That's good boring.

Once released, Red Hat products have a defined lifecycle that specifies the length of time they will receive enhancements, bug fixes and security updates. This allows customers to plan their environment and plan their upgrades. In many cases, ongoing product maintenance includes “backporting” changes from ongoing development of the upstream project. The goal is always to deliver features and fixes needed by customers but to do so in a way that doesn't compromise the predictability or reliability of running production systems.

Because Red Hat offers all of its products through subscriptions, rather than selling licenses, our business model doesn't rest on forcing upgrades to new product versions. A subscription entitles its owner to use any supported version of the product, to receive software updates and to receive support. A customer can also sign up for the Open Source Assurance program by activating their Red Hat subscriptions, logging in to their Red Hat Network account and accepting the terms of the optional Open Source Assurance Agreement.

Red Hat technical support is available up to 24 hours a day globally and is augmented with the Red Hat customer portal, which provides simple, integrated access to all the features of a subscription. This includes managing subscriptions, accessing product and solution knowledge specific to a given environment, engaging with Red Hat and its partners and finding technical content about using products more effectively. Red Hat consistently wins awards for the quality of this support.

Red Hat's ability to pair open source innovation with the ongoing predictability and support needed for an enterprise product is an important reason why so many organizations do business with us. We see enterprises increasingly depend on open source software for their most important infrastructure, just as almost all of the leading public cloud providers do. At the same time, they need to have confidence that if any issues do arise, a comprehensive support network with expertise is immediately available.

Support is important. But it's only a small part of the open source development and productization process. Anyone can staff a call center (and many do). However, it takes deep involvement throughout the entire process of developing open source software and bringing it to market to maximize its value for mainstream IT organizations. But that's the business Red Hat has been in for years, starting with Linux. And we'll be using the same playbook as we bring an OpenStack subscription offering to market.

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