VMWare – A Cautionary Tale for Docker?

Of course VMWare has made a ton of money over the last ~12 years. They won every battle in ‘The Hypervisor Wars‘.  Now, at the turn of 2015 it looks to me like they’ve lost the wars themselves.

What? Am I crazy? VMWare has made stockholders a TON of money over the years. There’s certainly no denying that. They also have a stable, robust core product. So how did they lose? They lost because there’s not a war to fight anymore.

Virtualization has become a commodity. The workflows and business processes surrounding virtualization is where VMWare has spent the lion’s share of their R&D budgets on over the years. And now that is the least important part of virtualization. With kvm being the default hypervisor for OpenStack, those workflows have been abstracted higher up the Operations tool chain. Sure there will always be profit margins in commodities like virtualization. But the sizzle is gone. And in IT today, if your company doesn’t have sizzle, you’re a target for the wolves.

Of course docker and VMWare are very different companies. Docker, inc. has released its code as an open source project for ages. They also have an incredibly engaged (if not always listened to) community around it. They had a the genius idea, not of containers, but of making containers easily portable between systems. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime idea, and it is revolutionizing how we create and deliver software.

But as an idea, there isn’t a ton of money in it.  Sure Docker got a ton of VC to go out and build a business around this idea. But where are they building that business?

I’m not saying these aren’t good products. Most of them have value. But they are all business process improvements for their original idea (docker-style containers).

VMWare had a good (some would call great) run by wrapping business process improvements around their take on a hypervisor. Unfortunately they now find themselves trying to play catch-up as they shoehorn new ideas like IaaS and Containers into their suddenly antiquated business model.

I don’t have an answer here, because I’m no closer to internal Docker, Inc. strategy meetings than I am Mars. But I do wonder if they are working on their next great idea, or if they are focused on taking a great idea and making a decent business around it. It has proven to be pennywise for them. But will it be pound-foolish? VMWare may have some interesting insights on that.


OpenStack Summit Day 1 – The Big Tent is BIG, and Tokyo Lessons Learned

My morning started off with a few lessons learned about being in Tokyo, where I speak 0 words of the language.

  • have cash, Japanese cash, if you plan on getting on Tokyo public transit. After learning this lesson I spent 45 minutes looking for a 7-11 (they use Citi ATMs which apparently easier for us gringoes) before getting in a cab to get me to the Summit on time. We passed 4 7-11’s in the first 1/2 mile of my trip. Of Course.

    This guy laughed at me multiple times
    This guy laughed at me multiple times
  • It is a serious walking city. the walking. omg the walking. and then the walking.

But on to the OpenStack Summit stuff, of which there is a lot.

After getting registered with the required keynote addresses. They are all on the schedule, so I won’t go into the who and what, but a few observations.

  1. The production quality is incredibly high. Like giant tv cameras on platforms high. Like 5 big monitors so us in the back can see too, high.

    big crowd filing in before the keynotes started
  2. The speakers were, on the whole, a little unpolished. They usually had good things to say, but could have used a few more dry runs for a crowd this big.
  3. ZOMG the crowd. Well over 5000 people from 56 countries. The big tent really is big these days. It is awesome, in a word. It is also the most inclusive conference I’ve ever attended. That is also very awesome.
  4. Double ZOMG THE HEAT. The conference is stretched out over 3 (4?) hotels plus a conference center. All of the thermostats seem to be set on ~81 Farenheit (Celsius?). Take that and toss in an overcrowded room full of sweaty geeks and things can get a little uncomfortable. Especially in the middles of the aisles. Especially especially after lunch.
  5. The Marketplace (vendors tables) is utter chaos. With that said, Mirantis easily wins this year. They have
  6. There is now an OpenStack Certification. Or there will be soon, at least. You can be a Certified OpenStack Administrator (COA). I don’t know how this is going to play with the existing Red Hat Certification, but I’m interested in finding out.
  7. Openstack has a new way of visualizing it constituent parts. http://www.openstack.org/software is way WAY better than the old wiki-style nastiness.
  8. Bitnami COO Erica Brescia took some pretty awesome shots at Docker Hub and its lack of curation. It’s the wild west out there, and it comes with consequences. I’m not a huge fan of Bitnami. But I am a huge fan of how Erica Brescia does her job.

My least favorite observation on the day was Canonical’s slogan for LXD. They had an ad on the spashes before the keynotes started and it was something along the lines of “Ubuntu/Canonical has the fastest hypervisor on the planet with lxd $something $something $something”

Hey Canonical, you are aware that containers and virtual machines are different things, right? So are you trying to re-define the word, or are you trying to pass off a container manager as a hypervisor? Huh? At any rate, it’s an awful slogan and even worse marketecture. I’m debating a drive by of their booth tomorrow.

After lunch I went to a talk held by Mirantis where the compared a base install of their offering to a GA(ish?)-release of RHEL OSP 7. They were more fair and balanced than I thought they would be. Their product, Fuse, is 3 or 4 years old at this point and very polished. OSP 7 uses OSP Director, which is based on TripleO. OSP 7 is Red Hat‘s first release based on this installer. It suffers from exactly the warts you think it would.

With that said, I was surprised they had to pic some pretty small nits to make their presentation work. A lot of their documentation issues were already addressed. But they correctly identified the biggest areas of need for OSPd as Red Hat works to mature it in OSP 8 and beyond.

All in all Day 1 was great fun. I’m looking way forward to Day 2. On top of that I’m PRETTY SURE I can get to and return from the conference using Tokyo Public Transport.

Is a Government-funded Open Source project an oxymoron?

Recently I’ve been talking with a co-worker who is working to re-fashion the community standards for a pretty large open source project that is funded almost wholly by the federal government. The project is several years old at this point. While it has a solid user base, it has not been successful in fostering a community of contributors. Up until now the government has contracted out a development team to develop and refine the product.

It was decided (I don’t know at what level) that this project needed to be “more open-sourcey”. The tasks that were came out of this desire were to re-evaluate and modify the internal open source process as well as the public open source strategy. At this point I was totally un-involved with the project and these tasks went into the team’s hopper to be made into sausage.

At the 11th hour, I stumbled on to this issue and the project leader forwarded me the documents that the group had worked out. Now, my personal philosophy (heavily borrowed from others) to build and have a healthy FOSS project is the following:

  1. Release the project under a known and accepted Open Source license, and do it properly.
  2. Keep barriers to community contribution as low as practically possible.
  3. Keep processes within the project as transparent as is practically possible.

Of course each project has it’s own specific issues and needs, but I sincerely think that if a team is solid on those three things, most other things will sort themselves out by a community being a community.

The process that this team had come up with wasn’t particularly close. It involved emails, approvals, in-house SVN branches (yes, they still use SVN), and other methods that are certainly not “low barriers” to a typical contributor. After some discussions with the team members and asking some questions, the process ended up significantly lighter, utilizing the already existing code-review system that has a 4-5 field registration form.

While this ultimately was a success, the part that really amazed me was how this project almost fell into the trap of being “sorta’ open source”.  I later found out that a member of the project had already spoken with multiple experts in the arena of building open source communities and somehow their advice had been disregarded.

Within the project there was a desire for the “paid team” to control the core code base, with no real mechanisms for a community to become involved with it. The “community” contributions would essentially be relegated to plug-in type extensions. One thing that has never proven successful in the FOSS world is keeping the community at arms length and still expecting them to be contributors instead of simply consumers.

Open Source is loud and noisy when at its best. In a perfect project, decisions are a practice in theoretical democracy. In my experience, government-funded projects that claim to be FOSS don’t want to try and manage this type of environment. I can’t really blame them, as it’s hard to attribute billable time to a 17-year old in Denmark who fixed a bug simply because it was interesting. There’s a lot more to being an Open Source project than allowing downloads from a version control repository for no fee, and the government projects and contractors I’ve worked with to this point are having a hard time learning that lesson.

Python, R and modern bioinformatics

My company, 5AM Solutions, was kind enough to ask me to add a post to the company blog this week, thus no update here as of yet (although there’s about to be). You can check it out over at


The Practical SysAdmin – Email

As I mentioned here, I often find myself looking at the chosen solutions that I choose and wondering if they are truly in line with the Free and Open Source ideals that I advocate. There are times when the truly 100% FOSS solution just isn’t time-effective for the situation. To that end, at least in my own mind, I’m endeavoring to establish a new philosophy within the universe of System Administrators.

Practical Systems Administration (noun) – The philosophy of adopting open source applications and principles whenever possible, but allowing for the occasional closed-source if it is truly an innovative, cost, and time effective product.

So what does this mean? Most of the time, not much at all. In my experience, the vast majority of the time an open-source, community-driven product is going to be a much better long-term solution within your IT Group than closed-source or pay software. There is a great webcast and talk about it at opensource.com here, with the CEO of Automattic (who make WordPress) and others.

But there are exceptions that can greatly affect your IT infrastructure. If taken advantage of, not only can you save time by not taking care of things that you don’t want or have to, but your company saves as well. The biggest example of being a Practical SysAdmin so far is with Email. You know it. Email, that bastion of corporate IT.

We’re not going to talk about Microsoft Exchange. Implementing that, and paying the small army to cajole it into relatively constant operation, is as closely akin to burning $50 bills as I can think.

There’s also Zimbra. Owned by VMWare, Zimbra has adopted an open-core business model. I’ve mentioned my dislike for this before, and it eliminates Zimbra as my email solution.

The truly open source solution for email is:

  • Get a box (or cluster) up and running as your ClamAV scanner
  • Get another box (or cluster) up and running as your SpamAssassian scanner
  • Set up a your outbound mail server (or cluster) – I like Postfix
  • Set up your inbound MTA (or cluster) for POP and IMAP access – I like Dovecot.
  • Don’t forget to set up your mail stores on some sort of shared storage
  • Set up something for webmail access – is roundcube still around?
  • String all of this together, including DNS that won’t land you on blacklists all the time. Don’t forget the SPF records.
For a company the size of mine (50 email-crazed employees), this would represent at least 6 physical servers, and hours every week to maintain and fix issues. It’s not a bad paycheck, I’ll happily admit. But I proved a long time ago that I could set up email for a company. There is no innovation in it, and there is no innovation in email for my company. At its absolute best-case, it’s a losing proposition.
There are some edge-cases, of course. If our company was big into email blitzes, a portion of what I outlined above might be a good idea. But we’re not. We use email like we use the telephone. We use it a lot, and we want it to “just work”.
Which leads us to the wonderful world of Google Enterprise Apps. For $50 per user/year, you get corporate access to Google’s Gmail platform, plus Google Docs, Reader, and about 80 other Google services. All tailored for your domain. So for our 50 users that’s $2500 annually for email. In the past year, the 2 people in the IT Group at my company has spent ~3 hours troubleshooting email issues. So out of ~4,000 hours of IT work, 3 or so were spent on email issues. And Google had a 99.84% uptime last year for the service. 2 people couldn’t provide that uptime percentage when running it all in-house (unless they were REALLY obsessed about email. Like, scary obsessed). It’s just not feasible.
The storage space is also worth considering. Each user gets 25GB of storage. To hold that in house, our mail store would have to be 1.25 TB (usable) for our current employee list. That’s also not counting spam queues or anything else.
Spam? How is YOUR gmail spam filter doing? Security? When was gmail actually hacked? I’m not talking about gmail USERS, but actually GMail. I don’t know of an example (If it exists, let me know).
There are likely some examples (I’m thinking of FISMA compliance nastiness with the government) that may make GMail not an option. But for 5AM Solutions, it’s an incredible return on a $2500 investment this year.
As for open source, no. Google Apps is NOT open source. Google IS one of the biggest contributors to the open source community in the world, but this project is not among them. There are attempts to re-create the usefulness of GApps as a purely open source platform (see OpenGoo – stil active?). But it’s not there yet, and with Googles pockets and desire to stay creative and innovative, it likely never will be there.