OpenShift Community Day Boston, Part II

In Part I of my series, I describe my misadventures getting to OpenShift Origin Community Day Boston.

It’s On Like Donkey Kong

In an act of superhuman logistical excellence, the Red Hat team whipped the previously without-power conference room into a state of readiness.  Caffeine was made neatly available to the left of the door, and to the right was a surprisingly extensive lunch spread.

A woman behind the table welcomed me, and my colleague, Steve.  We picked out our name tags as she asked what company we worked for.

Reflexively I replied, “Oracle.”  She repeated the word as she wrote it down in a notebook.

“Oh, no!” I thought, “I totally should have lied.”  From a corporate perspective, Oracle and Red Hat have had an uneasy relationship, which has been at times antagonistic ((The most conspicuous Oracle-vs-Red Hat matter is what used to be called “Unbreakable Linux.”  The story is well documented online, and tedious to retell.  My take-away from it was that in any open source business model, one has to be prepared for competing support ventures.)).

After the difficulties getting to the event, it seemed like a shame to get off on the wrong foot.  I’d later discover that nobody cared, and that the community was very friendly and welcoming.

The woman behind the table smiled and told us to get food and coffee, commenting that she’d be offended if we didn’t eat a lot. She also gave us some swag – a tee-shirt ((I picked out an XL.  When I got back to my room later that evening, I tried it on to find that it was skin-tight.  In fact, I could barely get it off.  I could stand to lose a little weight, but this was, well, depressing.  After I wiggled out of it, I checked the tag.  It was a ladies tee-shirt.  Sighing, I called my wife.  “Hey, they had tee-shirts and I got you one!”  She thanked me and told me I was sweet.  Yahtzee. )) and a 4GB USB drive in the shape of a bottle opener.  “Beer’s coming later,” she said, grinning.

Going to the front of the room, the woman announced that we would wait for another ten minutes to let attendees trickle in.  As she walked past, I asked her if she was @pythondj, or in meatspace, Diane Mueller.

“I am,” she said, “I used to be a fan of Django, but I’m better now.”  We chatted about Python, Ruby, and other sundry geek small talk.

Moments later, she kicked off the event, and welcomed everyone to the OpenShift Origin Community Day Boston.

Diane Mueller (@pythondj)

Introducing herself as a fisherwoman from Vancouver, BC, and Red Hat’s OpenShift Evangelist, it became immediately apparent how passionate she is about her project.  And she’s not alone.  OpenShift Origin is maintained on the popular version control system (VCS), GitHub, which at the time of writing this article, indicates 153 Forks, and 379 Stars, or likes.  For a relatively new project, this is impressive.

In GitHub parlance, a Fork is the fundamental way in which open source community members become involved with a project.  Developers make changes to their fork, then issue Pull Requests to the parent project to get their enhancements integrated into the whole.

For the interested, graphs can be generated to gauge the level of community activity.

Tracking Commits, or contributions back to the main project, can provide valuable data, or as Diane pointed out with the starlogs.net, which I find amusing.

Click the image to try it, but turn your speakers down :).

“There’s a Star Trek convention across the hall,” Dianne said, and offered some tongue-in-cheek prizes to anybody who could get OpenShift swag signed by a cast member.

Although the tone of the conference was very low-key, and the attendees did not hesitate to comment or question, I was loathe to mention that the starlogs.net crawl is a Star Wars nod, which, as any Trekker will tell you, should never be confused with the fandom that Boldly Goes.  No need to out myself as even geekier than a room full of geeks.

After pointing out how to reach the OpenShift developer community on various sites, including their IRC channel, #openshift-dev, Dianne announced the first non-Red Hat commercial Platform as a Service (PaaS) offering, Getupcloud.  This Brazilian, AWS-based operation will be very interesting to watch.  Can OpenShift’s commercial usefulness be extended past its company of origin?  If so, it will be a boon to community involvement, much like what has happened with OpenStack, the most popular open source Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) project.

Something that really got my attention was Diane’s call to the community to host more Community Days.  Red Hat seems to be serious about building community around OpenShift, and I must say, I’m impressed.  As I learned from my experience managing the SST project, getting the open source community behind a project is challenging.  To be honest with myself, I’d say I failed with SST ((The project lost its corporate support after Solaris 10 Update 4.  Sun open sourced it, which was laudable, although the project’s founder was RIFed before the process was completed.  After some pushing, I was able to complete it in 2008.  But the Solaris Engineering team preferred to bake security into the OS, and not to rely on Bourne Shell hackware.  I don’t blame them — it was the right decision — but I still needed the project.

A large portion of the SST users, particularly in the government and military space, used SST for their legally-mandated information security needs.  Such a small niche wasn’t worth backing with engineering dollars, and in the twilight of Sun Microsystems, there was little funding to be had for community-building.  So I set out on my own, trying to breathe life back into the project.  A busy consulting schedule slowed progress.  Then when Open Solaris imploded after the Oracle Acquisition, most of the interest fizzled.  There were some who kept submitting fixes, but eventually even most committed began to look elsewhere for functionality.

I feel very guilty that I was unable to “make it work.”  But it was a valuable lesson in open source, corporate involvement, and most importantly of all, community building )).  But I learned a lot about community building, and Red Hat is doing all the right things here.  I’m very excited about the project, and impressed with Red Hat’s openness to, and support of the community.

You can review Diane’s slides on SlideShare.

Bill DeCoste (GitHub profile)

Bill DeCoste, one of the OpenShift architects, spoke next, and was quick to articulate the value-prop for PaaS – that OpenShift creates a peaceful environment for operators and developers.

The Platform as a Service model is rapidly changing the fundamental way in which developers do what they do — write software. In the legacy development paradigm, developers depended on systems administrators to procure, provision, and maintain their development and production environments. The system administrators would be responsible for hardening, configuring, and patching these environments. This was a lengthy and ongoing process that produced unnecessary drag on the developers.

In order to avoid some of that “infrastructure drag,” developers would typically use local sandboxes. For example, a developer might start JBoss locally, then deploy a .war or .ear file into a local directory. This process did not at all mirror the production deployment process, and the learning curve produced even more drag.

PaaS smashes this whole paradigm.  With OpenShift developers can focus on what matters to them, their languages and their problem space.

Next, Bill spoke about terminology, which I’ll summarize here.

  • Broker – The management host responsible for the orchestration of node activities
  • Node – Compute host for gears
  • Gear – An allocation of fixed memory, compute, and storage for applications
  • Cartridge – A technology / framework
  • Application – A instantiation of one or more cartridges working together
  • Client Tools – The CLI, the Eclipse plug-in, and the web Console

A fascinating discussion ensued regarding the overloading of the term ‘application.’  Applications like MediaWiki can be turned into cartridges ((MediaWiki is currently offered as a Quick Start, but the Quick Start construct might become deprecated in favor of the Cartridge 2.0 spec, more on that in a subsequent post)), and when a user deploys the cartridge, it becomes an Application.  Bill was right, it is confusing.  He went on to ask the community to help refine the terminology.

Bill made a comment that stood out to me — that git is used primarily as a communication mechanism, and not as version control software.  This is ingenious.  PaaS is largely about focusing on the developer.  What better way to interface with the PaaS framework than with a tool that developers are already using?

Further, it’s an example of how OpenShift really embodies the highest ideal of open source.  All the underpinnings of OpenShift are free and open source software.  All of those projects are being re-used and re-purposed in ways that the original authors of each could not have envisioned, but did not prohibit by virtue of their permissive licenses.  This is one of myriad reasons why open source is so good for our industry, and why it has been an enduring interest for me.

Bill concluded his talk with a demo of deploying a JBoss cartridge and adding a MySQL database backend.  You can find his demo in his slides on SlideShare.

Three-Part in the Douglas Adams Sense

I had originally planned to cover this Community Day with three articles, but there are too many important things to mention, and the posts are long-winded already.  So we’re probably looking at a five-part trilogy.  Don’t panic.

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