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Subduing OpenStack Is a Bit Strong

Mirantis, a company that “delivers OpenStack cloud and open source application infrastructure” (taken from their About page), recently posted a blog entry about how accepting VMware as an OpenStack Foundation gold member was a mistake. In the post, the author states:

Subduing OpenStack is exactly what VMWare [sic] did by joining the foundation.

My readers know that I have, historically, been a big VMware fan, so naturally you might assume that I’m writing this post to defend VMware and their intentions, and talk about how the Mirantis author is wrong. Well, I do think that Mirantis author is wrong, but I’m not here to defend VMware.

Look, let’s be real here. VMware—like other gold members such as Cisco, Dell, Dreamhost, NetApp, Piston Cloud, Yahoo, and even Mirantis—is a for-profit organization. These companies exist to make money, and naturally that means they will make decisions that help support that goal. Further, VMware is a publicly-traded company, and therefore the leaders of VMware are legally required to guard the fiduciary interests of the company, or the shareholders will have legal recourse against them. Of course VMware would seek to join the OpenStack Foundation as part of a strategy to marginalize OpenStack in some way and protect their own marketshare. Of course VMware will seek to “wrap” their solutions around OpenStack as a way of penetrating new markets and preventing competitors from penetrating their markets. VMware is not alone in being driven by financial reasons. Every single gold and platinum member has financial motivations—in some form or fashion—for their participation in the OpenStack Foundation.

However, to say that VMware “subdued” OpenStack simply by joining the OpenStack Foundation (or being allowed to join the Foundation) is, I think, a bit strong. There are a number of mitigating factors here, in my opinion:

  1. VMware’s membership in the Foundation does not affect the current Board of Directors; therefore, VMware cannot influence the direction of OpenStack through votes on the Board of Directors.

  2. As I understand it, VMware’s gold membership is annual. If the Board of Directors feels that VMware’s membership is detrimental to the project, they can simply refuse to renew the membership.

  3. Code contributions to OpenStack still go through an approval process; therefore, VMware can’t just contribute code willy nilly to influence the direction of the project.

Does the OpenStack Foundation’s Board of Directors need to be wary of VMware? Yes, certainly. As Mirantis pointed out, they (the Board of Directors) have a responsibility to further the goals of the OpenStack software project. I would even go so far as to say the Board of Directors needs to be wary of all corporate influence that might sway the OpenStack Foundation (and, by extension, the project itself) from its long-term goals. Consider the fact that Intel joined the OpenStack Foundation at the same time as VMware. Does anyone think that Intel isn’t going to do everything they can to protect their financial interests? Of course they will (and, as long as it’s done lawfully, there’s nothing wrong with that). So will Dell, and Cisco, and all the other organizations. It’s the responsibility of the Foundation—and the Board of Directors as the leadership of the Foundation—to ensure that no one entity’s interests outweigh the interests of the project as a whole.

That is why I think that saying VMware “subdued” OpenStack simply by being admitted as a member of the Foundation.

What do you think? Speak up in the comments below. (Courteous comments are always welcome. Please disclose professional/corporate affiliations where applicable.)

My disclosure: As far as I know, EMC—my current employer—is not an OpenStack Foundation member, but does hold a financial position in VMware.

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