Does OpenStack need a Linus Torvalds?

Does OpenStack need a Linus Torvalds?

OpenStack has been dubbed by some enthusiasts as the Linux of the cloud - an open source operating system for public or private clouds. But there's one stark difference between the two projects: OpenStack doesn't have a Linus Torvalds, the eccentric, outspoken, never-afraid-to-say-what-he-thinks leader of the Linux world.

Torvalds personifies Linux in many ways. OpenStack doesn't have that one central figure right now. The question is: Does OpenStack need it?

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Some would argue yes. Torvalds, because of the weight he holds in the project, calls the shots about how Linux is run, what goes in, what stays out of the code, and he's not afraid to express his opinions. He provides not only internal guidance for the project, but also an exterior cheerleading role.

Others would say OpenStack does not need a Torvalds of its own. The project is meant to be an open source meritocracy, where members are judged based on their code contributions to the project. OpenStack has been fighting an image that the project is just full of corporate interests, which is part of the reason Rackspace ceded official control of the project to the OpenStack Foundation recently.

What would a Torvalds of OpenStack do? For one, he or she could provide an authoritative voice for the project. The position would allow someone to express a vision for what OpenStack will be, who and what is in the project and where it's going.

Perhaps most importantly, he or she could say no. As OpenStack continues to gain momentum, more and more companies will attempt to leverage the buzz around the project and call themselves OpenStack when they're not. A Torvalds of OpenStack could help keep that in line.

For example, when VMware controversially applied to be a member of OpenStack, there was debate within the foundation's board of directors about if the company would be let in, which it ultimately was. If there is one central figure for the OpenStack project, that decision could have been much easier, instead of taking hours of deliberations and creating what some consider to be wedges within the project.

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Here are some people who could step up to the plate and be the Linux Torvalds of OpenStack.

Jonathan Bryce

If anyone is the official face of OpenStack right now, it's Bryce. A former member of the OpenStack team at Rackspace, Bryce now serves as the inaugural executive director of the OpenStack Foundation, which coordinates high-level decisions about the future of the OpenStack project. He's the default spokesperson for the project and has clearly taken on a leadership role. At the most recent OpenStack summit, he served as an emcee throughout the show and opened with the first keynote address. Along with his right-hand man Mark Collier, COO of OpenStack, Bryce is pretty much running the day-to-day operations of the project. One question about Bryce: Is he provocative enough to be a Torvalds for OpenStack? He's generally a more conciliatory type than a raucous pot-stirrer. But, who says OpenStack's version of Torvalds needs to be a mirror image of Linus's style?

Chris Kemp

One of the co-founders of the OpenStack project, Kemp is in many ways seen as the brainchild behind the OpenStack movement. While CTO of NASA, he led the team that created Nova, the core compute engine that makes up OpenStack. At the recent OpenStack Summit Kemp had a prominent keynote role in which he articulated the promise of the OpenStack project. He has the vision for OpenStack and he's all in with the project too, having launched his own startup Nebula that has bet big on OpenStack.

Joshua McKenty

Another co-founder of the OpenStack project from his time at NASA, McKenty is seen by some as a face of the startup community that has developed around OpenStack. His company, Piston Cloud Computing is a pure-play OpenStack startup that takes the project's open source code and makes it "enterprise ready." He's certainly outspoken enough, always willing to share his two cents on anything related to the project, or the tech industry in general, is edgy and has no problem being in the spotlight. He's about as close to Torvalds as you'll get at OpenStack right now, at least in terms of personality and style.

Alan Clark or Lew Tucker (right)

The two men elected chair and vice chair of the newly formed OpenStack Foundation have clearly taken a leadership role within the project. Clark is SUSE's open source director and Tucker serves as Cisco's Cloud vice president and CTO, but he's also worked at Sun and Combined, Clark and Tucker seem to provide a steady, experienced hand to guide the project. Both are non-controversial, intellectual visionaries who clearly have the best interests of the project in mind, plus represent the linkage between the project and major corporate sponsors and partners.

The OpenStack Foundation

OK, so the entire 24-member foundation isn't one person, but in many ways the creation of the Foundation is meant to be the unifying voice of the project. But can a Torvalds of OpenStack really be a group of 24 people? Already we've seen some divisions within the group, such as around the decision to let VMware in. That hardly makes the Foundation a singular voice for the project. Rather, it's more of a conglomeration of whatever a majority of the group can agree on.

Does OpenStack, the open source cloud computing project, need a Linus Torvalds?


Perhaps the reason there is no Torvalds of OpenStack is because the forces that be within OpenStack don't want it that way. OpenStack is meant to be an open source project that anyone and everyone is welcome to, if they contribute back to the community. If there was an outspoken Torvalds-equivalent at OpenStack, perhaps it could undermine what the project is all about. OpenStack is not about one person, it's about a project, and having Linus-lookalikes could undermine that.

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

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Tags GartnerLinuxoperating systemssoftwarelinus torvaldsOpenStackOpenStack cloudsopen source cloud

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