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OpenStack Board Member Rob Hirschfeld on the impact of DevOps, SDN, Docker & more

Listen as RackN CEO and Crowbar Co-Founder Rob Hirschfeld shares his thoughts on hot topics for OpenStack in 2015.

I recently had the great pleasure to sit down with community-elected OpenStack board member and Crowbar co-creator, Rob Hirschfeld. Rob shared awesome nuggets of wisdom on data center and cloud operations. You can view the video and the full transcript below:

Art Fewell: Welcome to Open Networking TV. This is the Catch Up, I’m your host Art Fewell. Today we will be catching up with the OpenStack guru, Rob Hirschfeld.

Rob Hirschfeld: Good to see you, thanks you for having me on.

Art Fewell: I’m really grateful that we can have somebody with such influence and expertise. Just a little background about Rob, he’s been one of the guys with OpenStack before it was OpenStack and helping to create the very, very cool entity that it has become.

Could you give us a little more of your background and your experience getting started with OpenStack.

Rob Hirschfeld: Sure, I’d be happy to. I joined Dell to help build scale-out cloud solutions, but way before OpenStack. Back in the days, Eucalyptus and Joyent and when platform as a service was a hot buzz word. The first time it was a hot buzz word I guess.

We’d been trying to get this hyper scale hardware to build solutions on it. What would happen is we would start partnering with a company and then more than half of the time these companies would get bought. They’d be little startups and they get bought.

We got to a point where partnering with a startup was really hard, but partnering with an open source project actually gave us a lot more influence and control.

Just one of the things, to me, open source is not about the money side of it, right? A lot of people think, “Oh, it’s free software!” It’s not free software. There’s investment and learning and operational things and a lot of times people buy software support from a vendor. It’s really about control and transparency.

Then we got into OpenStack, because we needed and wanted the control and transparency that would come from the community ‘cause we didn’t want it being bought out from under us, we wanted to invest our time and that we could be part of and would be sustained and transparent to the community.

The other thing that came out of that for us was that we started really with an operational focus. While I’ve been in OpenStack in the community for a long time I’ve really come at it from an operational perspective and what it takes to operate clouds. I really don’t contribute on the development side - there’s a lot of excitement and buzz around the size of the development community.

My focus has actually been on growing the size of the operator community and helping the vendors who are trying to setup users and run private cloud and actually run public clouds. Help there with what they need out of it which is actually a very different part of the equation.

That also comes out of that experience I had, my first years at Dell where we had software and we had hardware, right? Of course. What we were struggling with is helping users operate. We would show up with Joyent or Eucalyptus or Hadoop, all those things and just wiring the servers together and creating an operational environment that would work was a real challenge. Every customer is a little bit different. We kept banging our heads around it.

Ultimately that was a lot of where my team focused inside of Dell and actually where I’m focused professionally now is continuing that work. We can talk about that more.

Art Fewell: It’s really been a very interesting and exciting challenge. I think one of the things that is really powerful about OpenStack and the OpenStack community is the need for industrial commons to drive innovation forward. Historically we haven’t always done a very good job at that, we added developments in isolation and you have 10 different companies developing basically the same thing, like ships in the night and just wasting this tremendous amount of potential energy that could be applied to solving real world challenges.

Then you look at another side of that is, let’s say you’re the small company and how are you going to compete with an OpenStack scale? If you only have two or three big players that could have the feasibility of developing something of that scale, it’s a high barrier to innovation. If OpenStack exists and I as a smaller company can innovate on top of this big, stable, reputable platform it completely changes the dynamic of innovation, right?

Rob Hirschfeld: The reason I was pointing at you and laughing is you wouldn’t happen to have a networking background, would you?

Art Fewell: Don’t worry. People point at me and laugh a lot ;)

Rob Hirschfeld: You just described the networking world to a tee. There’s major incumbents and there’s people trying to figure out how to get into it and the excitement that I see happening in networking is this tremendous open switching, new operating systems are starting to get opened up, top of rack switching is becoming a DevOps, potentially a DevOps landscape.

It’s amazingly powerful and there’s this incredible convergence between what OpenStack needs from software defined networking which is really going to change the way people deploy applications and it’s moving networking into a DevOps scripted perspective from the cloud. But then it’s driving down also into physical infrastructure and physical networking and what we’re expecting to see there.

Incumbents are starting to be threatened by these new opened technologies, these new scrappy startups that are coming in and it’s really important. One of the things that I think levels of playing field is having an open platform.

Art Fewell: You look at business management strategy. It wasn’t that long ago, almost nobody knew what the disruptive innovation was, what it meant to be caught in the innovators dilemma or what did you do that got you in that position? What could you do to get you out?

These are all new things and right as we’re learning about this stuff we find a lot of businesses are already caught up in these paradigms. It’s really hard to break out of them. It seems one of the other great things about this open movement is it provides a vehicle for that.

Rob Hirschfeld: It’s interesting that you talk about disruptive because while open source and all of these technologies are disruptive, a lot of the things I hear is that the pace of change is really hard for people to keep up with. There’s this interesting paradox of we’re looking for this disruptive, change the game type technologies and open source promises that.

One thing people like about it is transparent so they can see what’s coming. In some ways it’s less disruptive from their business process because it’s transparent. Although the changes that brings in are disruptive.

What we’re seeing is the pace of change is increasing, the open source stuff has got people really excited. It makes it super easy for developers to try something new that’s way ahead of where their IT operations are. Then you’ve got this interesting cycle.

What happens is we haven’t even talked about docker and containerization yet which I know we want to get too. That potentially is disruptive to OpenStack and how OpenStack is operating.

What we’re seeing is, is that in the timeframe that IT and or enterprises are used to making decisions, let alone rolling those decisions out. The technologies changing under them again and they’re really finding that it’s not just a matter of picking right technologies but picking them fast enough and implementing fast enough and getting experience fast enough.

It’s a matter of agility of the decision making process being driven by, “All right, do we pick docker or do we pick OpenStack?” They get paralyzed by having to choose really quickly.

Then we end up with this really tricky cycle. That I see is definitely challenging. We’re starting to address that a little bit by helping automate at the physical level so that the risk of setting up an OpenStack cloud and then having to turn it into a cloud foundry infrastructure is getting mitigated. From everything down, cloud downwards is becoming more flexible and faster and people would be able to … You have to turn the crank faster and faster and faster to keep up.

Art Fewell: Whether you’re a computer, whether you’re a hard drive, whether you’re a piece of memory or a network.

Rob Hirschfeld: I like to be software. Go ahead.

Art Fewell: Yeah, you could be software. I think everything … At some point when you look at the computer science of it there’s a natural best place for things to fit. You match that against vendor interest and it becomes … If you’re a storage company everything should be storage. If you’re s server company everything is servers and so on and so forth.

I think one of the things that’s been really nice in OpenStack is you’re starting to see vendors that wouldn’t have budged in certain areas before, really starting to say, we can’t come to this OpenStack community, all these respected technologists with a straight face and say, “Yeah. This is how it should be.” when these things are a lot more obviously and vendor interest.

Rob Hirschfeld: It’s definitely forcing a different behavior. Small things I love about OpenStack and part of how the community operates is if your vendors are learning how to work in these open communities. When they don’t do it right they’re told very strongly that they don’t.

I’ve seen this transformation where it’s amazing to me. I’ve been talking to major companies who were scratching their heads saying, “I need to figure out how to be more open.” When I was at Dell, that was one of the things that we were showing a lot of leadership for and there’s a lot of enthusiasm like, “All right, you’re doing it, all this open source work. What do we do? How does that work? How do we turn that into a business?”

Companies are finding out from their customers that they have to be more open. It’s an important part of doing business. We actually leveraged it as a competitive advantage in that we could work in the open collaboratively with our customers and partners and actually do advanced work and talk to them in a way that we couldn’t dialogue before.

It’s really important that it’s about communication. Your point was we’re communicating differently and vendors have an opportunity to listen to their customers in a new way in the open communities. If your vendor isn’t listening through an OpenStack community or whatever other communities are involved in, then they’ve missed the point of doing open source. It’s not just about commoditization and free and things like that.

Art Fewell: That’s a great point ‘cause I think if you look at the way a lot of software development has been done historically, one of the things that would facilitate the growth of the economy is to lower the barriers of entry and make it easier for people to start to engage in complex software projects. I think open source has clearly done that.

Particularly in contrast to one of the biggest software development models that has been around for a long time which is some super huge mega corp goes and hires a big consulting firm to come and develop and piece of software. Those two in a private circle work collaboratively until they have something and then maybe later the software consultant goes out and turns it into a packaged software offering.

A lot of our software that exists today comes from that model, but one; you see there’s a very small community of input that gets to be put into those things ‘cause you’re dealing usually with one company and one software consultant. There’s also a huge, huge dollar sum that has to be invested so you’re really waiting for somebody at mega corp to have the right executive who has the right brain fart to be able to begin an initiative like that. Open source turns the tables on that, right?

Rob Hirschfeld: It definitely let you start small. Frankly, OpenStack probably wouldn’t have made it out of beta. Once again, I’m saying heresy. The challenges is that people were able to touch and play with OpenStack and start playing with it. You had some advanced users who could actually make it work way before a broader spectrum of users and that was okay and it allowed the software maturity cycle to go faster.

This was funny. There are some people who will tell you OpenStack is still beta and it’s not ready for primetime. I know for a fact there’s a lot of people who are running real production workloads on it and depending on it.

What we’re doing now is we’re shifting the choice of whether it’s ready or not to the customer and the user and not to the … Sadly maybe, not the QA department who says, “Hey, its ready now. I’m done checking it.”

We’re taking away the gates which is exactly what you’re saying. I can get early use, I can get early feedback. I can figure out what’s valuable or not. I do a lot of lean software type development, that’s what we would call an MVP, minimum viable product. The reason you do that is so you can get this feedback and get users engage, they tell if you’re right or wrong. A lot of times they tell you, they’re very public about it. You have to put your ego on side and say, “Yeah.”

There was a famous incident where we were doing early Crowbar work and we were just starting to partner with SUSE. SUSE has some engineers, they did evaluation of Crowbar in 2012, it was really early. They came back and they gave me a presentation, I call it the Your Baby is Ugly Presentation.

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