Yesterday was the first in-person meeting of the 2013 Foundation Board. We met at Rackspace’s offices in San Francisco at Jim Curry’s invitation. The meeting also coincided with the Foundation staff all getting together in-person for the first time. With so many OpenStack people converging on the one place, it was quite funny to randomly run into various people at the Courtyard Marriott around the corner.
The meeting kicked off at 10am after some informal introductions. For me, it was a case of playing a “hey, are you Tristan?”/”No, I’m Sean” guessing game. Monty brought his usual wackiness to the ocassion by handing out beads and wearing a luminous, sparkling orange fedora with bright blue flashing LEDs. It’s Mardi Gras time!
The first item on the agenda was a formal role call. 5 board members couldn’t attend and Tim Bell was on the phone. Also attending were Jonathan Bryce and Mark from the Foundation staff. Mark Radcliffe, our outside council, was on the phone.
From that start, it was obvious that it was going to be extremely difficult for those dialled into the meeting to be able to participate effectively. This is definitely something we will continue to struggle with and, as one of the few who had to travel halfway around the world for the meeting, I can certainly sympathise with those on the phone.
As a further formality, Alan Clark reviewed some of the existing board policies:
- that observers are allowed at board meetings, except in the case of executive sessions
- that board members wouldn’t blog or tweet until after an official summary of the meeting had been posted to the foundation list
There was some discussion about how executive discussions should be handled. How we can describe what the topic of any executive sessions were and perhaps also publicly hold any votes arising from those sessions.
Rob Hirschfeld proposed that our general decision making process should involve first coming to an agreement on the criteria for making the decision and then applying the criteria. The idea was that this process would avoid some circular debates and save time.
Next up, Ryan Lane presented an update on the progress of the User Committee. He described the mandate of the committee as “fighting for the users”. The initial goals of the committee are to define their charter and a set of categories of users. Ryan encouraged the board to review and comment on the Google Doc they had prepared.
Much discussion was had about how to gather data about our users. Options included a CRM system, user polls, anonymous usage reporting tools, aggregating statistics to protect the innocent and the like. This is clearly going to be a very hot topic for the committee.
During the discussion, Josh McKenty posted a blueprint for how a opt-in tracking system might work.
We also had an interesting debate about the committee should move forward with adding more members to the committee. The committee’s own proposal for this was to be democratic and have elections for representatives from different geographies or categories of users. Quite a few board members raised concerns about this approach and asked the committee members to press forward quickly and appoint a diverse set of members with minimal bureaucracy.
Once Ryan had finished, the board expressed their thanks and support for the efforts of the committee. Ryan was asked to stay and observe the board meeting, but Ryan preferred to go and get some “real work” done. That’s the spirit!
If you want to follow the progress of the user committee, the best way is to subscribe to firstname.lastname@example.org mailing list. Ryan would be happy to share his slide deck if you email him.
Legal Affairs Committee
Alice King and Nissa Strottman took the floor and presented the work of the Legal Affairs Committee on the whole area of patents and risk mitigation.
Alice and Nissa first talked the board through some background on patents. They described the “risk landscape” in terms of competing companies suing and counter-suing each other for infringement (Alice had an awesome diagram of “who’s suing who in the mobile industry” which got a good laugh from everyone) but also, perhaps more importantly, the threat of Non Practicing Entities or “patent trolls”.
We talked in some detail about the Patent Grant in the Apache License and how it does a lot to mitigate the risks but doesn’t completely eliminate them. In particular, it does little to help with the threat of NPEs. An interesting debate followed about various nuances of the Apache License definitions and how they relate to OpenStack.
Alice and Nissa described approaches taken by other communities – e.g. OIN, GPLv3, Open Compute and Eclipse – and also how an additional contributor agreement could be adopted by the project to further help. Brian Stevens talked about how the OIN works and how it isn’t strictly limited to Linux. It was noted that many of the larger members of the Foundation are also members of OIN. Eileen Evans described how the adoption of a new contributor agreement would be a massive bureaucratic challenge for some of the larger companies involved in the project.
A point on one of the slides that a more robust patent policy would remove a barrier to OpenStack’s adoption triggered some discussion about whether patent risk is in fact hindering OpenStack’s adoption. The consensus seemed to be that this wasn’t seen as a huge issue and how, in fact, OpenStack is in as good a position as most any other open-source project. While it’s important for the Foundation to do due diligence on this matter, it’s also important that we don’t overstate the actual risk.
Another topic discussed was the question of “defensive publication” of ideas generated by the developer community so that they are properly documented in a way that is accessible to lawyers who wish to demonstrate prior art. Various ideas were suggested about how blueprints could form the basis for such an approach and how to do this without placing the burden on the developers.
It’s amusing the way we wind ourselves in knots over these things and generally come to the conclusion that the issues are difficult, but that things are working pretty well as they currently stand.
Finally, with limited time available, we picked up again on some of the discussion from the previous board meeting about the scope, name and makeup of the committee. Some board members seemed fine with how things currently stand while others reiterated the issues previously discussed.
Anyone interested in the legal affairs committee should talk to Alice King about how to get involved. She would be happy to share her slides with those interested.
At this point, it was time to break for lunch. Most board members stayed for the lunch provided on-site and had productive, informal discussions while eating.
Monty, Nick Barcet and I attended a Technical Committee meeting over IRC while also eating and chatting with the rest of the board. That’s multi-taksing! Amazingly every single member of the TC attended the meeting and we voted unamimously to update the Incubation Process as recommended by the IncUp committee. Such a level of TC consensus is completely unprecedented and took a tonne of work to achieve. Kudos to Thierry for herding the cats on this.
Sean Roberts presented a report on the work of the Financial Oversight committee and we discussed the progress on completing the Foundation’s first financial audit and the updated financial forecast for the year.
The topic was so uncontroversial (you could even say boring) that we didn’t even take much in the way of notes on it. There was unanimous agreement that this is how it should be and we’d be doing something wrong if the topic was “interesting”. The board praised the committee and the staff for their dilligence in doing everything to make sure the Foundation’s financial affairs were beyond question.
Josh McKenty was next up presenting his proposal for a Transparency Policy for the board and his wanting volunteers to form a committee to finalize the details.
He described the committee’s goal as:
To improve transparency and foster collaboration between the foundation members and members of the board, technical committee, user committee and other committees. Specifically, to draft statements and prototype systems changes for board review and approval.
A large part of the discussion was around trying to quantify the problem we’retrying to solve and understanding how we’d achieve closure on it. The board doesn’t want to be consumed with this indefinitely, so how will we know when it’s simply a case of “you can’t please everyone”.
We wrapped this up by gathering volunteers for the committee:
- Nick Barcet
- Jonathan Bryce
- Alan Clark
- Eileen Evans
- Tristan Goode
- Rob Hirschfeld
- Kyle MacDonald
- Joshua McKenty
- Mark McLoughlin
- Lauren Sell
Next up, Jonathan provided an awesome update on the Foundation’s progress and plans. It’s clear an awful lot of time and thought went into this super-helpful and encouraging update.
One of Jonathan’s slides showed some mind-blowing statistics detailing the growth of the developer community, user community and ecosystem. The statistics on the number of patches merged every month were really stunning and the board praised the success of the project’s infrastructure team in enabling this level of activity.
Jonathan talked to his hiring plan and introduced the latest Foundation employees. We’re executing almost to the plan and there are two positions still to fill – another infrastructure engineer and another community manager.
There was a brief discussion of the updated budget. The summary is that slightly more money is both coming in and going out than planned, giving a positive net effect. A motion was passed to approve the new budget.
The discussion moved more to event planning and marketing matters and Lauren Sell filled the board in on a lot of the details in this area.
Planning of the Havana summit was well in hand and it was noted that the choice of venue means that costs will rise more linearly with attendance than previous summits. Lauren discussed the venue selection process for the October 2013 summit which should come to a conclusion soon. Future summits were discussed with general agreement that a two year cycle should be rougly East Coast US, Asia, West Coast US and Europe. Several board members expressed a desire to get started on the selection process for the October 2014 summit since the size of the event means that suitable locations get booked up very far in advance.
Lauren also described her efforts to bring the various marketers at dozens of OpenStack companies together with some of the same principles that drive the collaborative software development process. She has created a mailing list which already has almost 100 members and holds a regular phone meeting of the group. The goal is to have all those involved in marketing OpenStack to be highly co-ordinated and “on message”.
Finally, Lauren quickly presented an independent study she had just received on OpenStack’s marketing impact relative to other open-source projects and industry players. The results of the study were simply stunning and most of us appeared to be struggling to believe them. However, even if the statistics on OpenStack are massively inflated, we’re still hugely being successful. Lauren, Mark and Jonathan have already worked with the authors of the report to find any data that could undermine the conclusions and will continue to do so.
Jonathan and Lauren can be contacted directly for the materials they presented to the board.
Jonathan moved on to kick off a strategy session where board members would have an opportunity to put their thinking hats on and brainstorm together. He teed up the discussion by presenting his thesis that OpenStack was building a “platform ecosystem” with huge potential for network effects that would result in OpenStack being the dominant cloud platform in the market place.
We then moved onto having a short exercise where we used sticky-notes to throw out our ideas in three areas – “interoperability”, “reference architectures” and “engaging users”. Once the ideas had been gathered, we split into breakout groups to discuss ideas for each of those areas.
Rather than trying to capture all of the ideas and action items from the discussions here, it’s perhaps easier to call out some highlights:
- We’re going to explore the use of Tempest as an API compatibility testing tool which can be pointed at an OpenStack instance. The idea is that anyone who wants to license the OpenStack trademark would request a test run which would result in a scorecard. At every release, the board would update the
results required for each OpenStack mark so that obtaining a trademark license simply becomes a matter of fixing any failing tests which are required for the desired mark.
- We’re going to explore the definition of reference architecture “flavours” and how these reference architectures could be defined and maintained. The initial idea is that Heat templates could be used as a deployable reference architecture definitions.
- In terms of engaging users, we decided that trystack.org and deployment tracking tools were crucial.
Election Process Committee
Todd Moore raised the question of whether allowing Foundation staff to run for the Individual Member Director elections was a waste of a board seat since staff members are so involved in the Foundation anyway. The question of potential conflicts of interest was also raised. There was no time to debate this question so the board resolved to reconstitute the Election Process Committee to consider this question and the general question of the eligibility to run and vote for these board seats.
The committee will consist of Todd as chair and the 8 individual board members.
We wrapped up at 6pm sharp and headed over to a nearby restaurant with all of the Foundation staff members. Far from simply being a social event, it was incredible to see 30+ focused and committed folks spend over 4 hours going from conversation to conversation about how to continue OpenStack’s success into the future. For me personally, those conversations alone were enough to justify the effort it took to get to the meeting.