Sunday, June 3, 2012

New Community Interactions for Hardware Vendors

[Disclosure - My employer is EMC]

A few weeks ago, my good friend Nick Weaver (@lynxbat) released "Project Razor" in conjunction with EMC and Puppet Labs. It's a framework to simplify the deployment and automation of bare-metal or virtualized server environments, bringing more of the stack into a DevOps models. While I'm biased and think the code is pretty awesome, the more interesting aspect is that a major hardware company (EMC) was part of an open-source project.

As Dan Hushon (Distinguished Engineer, EMC) stated during our podcast prior to the release, this isn't the first time EMC has contributed to an open-source effort (he mentioned contributions to NFS), but it is the first time they've given so broadly to an open-community and with a partner like Puppet Labs.

This isn't about EMC, but rather hardware vendors (in general) trying to adapt to a changing world where software is driving more and more value. Let's take a look at three different (recent) approaches taken by traditional hardware vendors are they engage around software-centric projects.

EMC / Puppet Labs - "Project Razor"
The code for this project was open-sourced, instead of just making it a free "plug-in" that's offered on a vendor website, requiring a login &/or special access. In the first ten days, 51 pull requests have been made for the project, meaning that it's actively being extended and modified by people that have unique needs or new ideas about how it can add value.

Beyond that, we're already starting to see people in the community write about their experiences, and we can only expect this list to grow as IT professionals begin moving from experimentation to POC to production:
Of course, a single project does mean a company has completely changed their culture. Razor is primarily focused on automating server hardware, but EMC is primarily a storage company. No roadmap was publicly announced at EMC World 2012 for Razor, although there was quite a bit of public discussion about moving storage platforms to x86 Intel platforms, and some hints about consolidating compute and storage in a hybrid enclosure. So maybe Razor will eventually be adopted by EMC, or maybe it will require the community to drive new adoption models.

Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) API 
Cisco introduced the Unified Computing System (UCS) in 2009 and has been rapidly growing market-share. By virtualizing the hardware and integrating both server and networking functionality, they have simplified the deployment of new infrastructure for virtualization or Private Cloud environments. One of the unique aspects of UCS is the ability to program and automate the system through the UCS API.

While Cisco claims to have several dozen ISVs leveraging the UCS API, and have shown examples of tools like an iPhone app, they still choose to place a large percentage of the UCS API content behind a CCO website login. This means an existing partnership (customer, reseller, ISV) relationship must exist before people can build new tools against the UCS API.

Dell - Crowbar
In 2011, Dell's Data Center Services (DCS) group, led by Rob Hirshfeld, created "Crowbar" as a framework to automate the deployment of cloud infrastructure. This project was later ope-sourced and expanded to support popular frameworks such as OpenStack, CloudFoundry and OpsCode Chef. The modular framework uses "bar clamps" to allow new functionality to be added by Dell or 3rd-party companies.

Dell's DCS group has been active in promoting Crowbar through various OpenStack community events. As an open-source project, it's seen over 900 pull requests on Github.

HP Cloud 
In 2011, HP announced their Public Cloud offering. Over time, details have come out that the HP Cloud is based on OpenStack and VMware CloudFoundry. And ReadWriteWeb has identified HP as one of the leading contributors to OpenStack Essex release. As of June 2012, the HP Cloud is still in (public) beta.

It will be interesting to track a few aspects of the HP Cloud as this service moves from beta to production and more details become available:

  • How many HP-unique modifications will they add to their OpenStack deployment?
  • How many HP-unique modifications will they add to their CloudFoundry deployment?
  • Will customers of the HP Cloud be able to submit modifications?
  • Will customers running OpenStack or CloudFoundry within their data center be able to migrate applications and services to the HP Cloud without significant changes?

At the least, HP is providing all documentation and pricing about the HP Cloud service to the public (not behind a login).

The Future of Software and Communities?

As more traditional hardware vendors move to embrace open-APIs and open-source software, it will be important to monitor how well they interact and embrace various communities. Are they open to collaboration and innovation, or do they continue to engage in tradition one-way (or protected) models?

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