OpenStack recently celebrated its fourth birthday and it seems as we pass this milestone, it’s a healthy, vibrant and growing project. It has been embraced by players big and small including such industry luminaries as IBM, Microsoft, HP, Red Hat, SAP and many others. It’s all good for OpenStack.

Membership is growing. The community is active and engaged, but as these big players come on board remember, it’s a double-edged sword because they will be fighting tooth and nail for control of the project and that has the potential at least to undermine the original mission of the project, to be a foil to the big players, especially Amazon.

As we look ahead to whatever comes next, it’s important to note that in the life of any popular open source project there are key points and critical junctures and I think we might have reached one. What does OpenStack want to be as it grows into a more mature project and just who is going to define that?

As the big boys get involved, it gives the project a sense of legitimacy it might be lacking if they weren’t involved, but even though it’s open source, these companies are jumping on board precisely because they see how popular it’s becoming. On one hand, they don’t want to be left behind, but on the other they want to be the ones defining how it all holds together, very likely in their image and product needs.

All of this doesn’t happen in a vacuum of course. Just because Oracle or SAP or Red Hat wants to define OpenStack on their own terms, it’s not that simple. There is in fact a community out there whose job is to keep those players in check, but they don’t put resources to bear on a project like this out of simple largesse. They do it because they see a commercial opportunity.

OpenStack is complex with a lot of pieces and as such it requires lots of different contributions to make it work. So far at least, we haven’t seen the pure commercialization of OpenStack where one company tries to be the OpenStack company contributing to the core open source project while offering proprietary bits to make it easier to use or support services that these projects are often lacking.

IT pros still like that old one throat to throttle when times get tough. Perhaps that’s the role that these big companies can play. They are clearly putting lots of personnel on the project and that can only accelerate the project and help resolve open issues and problems within the stack.

There are no simple answers here. It’s not as though corporate involvement in a project is in itself a good or bad thing. It just is something that the project has to come to grips with as it grows and develops.

When I was younger I used to look with derision at so-called commercial bands. But even successful bands, spent years working to get where they were. They were once the young and hungry up and comers too. It’s all about perspective and you can’t blame an open source project for being successful. You can just hope that it doesn’t become of a victim of that success.

Photo Credit: Aaron Hockley on Flickr.  Used under CC by SA 2.0 License.