Apr
29
2019
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Canonical’s Mark Shuttleworth on dueling open-source foundations

At the Open Infrastructure Summit, which was previously known as the OpenStack Summit, Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth used his keynote to talk about the state of open-source foundations — and what often feels like the increasing competition between them. “I know for a fact that nobody asked to replace dueling vendors with dueling foundations,” he said. “Nobody asked for that.”

He then put a point on this, saying, “what’s the difference between a vendor that only promotes the ideas that are in its own interest and a foundation that does the same thing. Or worse, a foundation that will only represent projects that it’s paid to represent.”

Somewhat uncharacteristically, Shuttleworth didn’t say which foundations he was talking about, but since there are really only two foundations that fit the bill here, it’s pretty clear that he was talking about the OpenStack Foundation and the Linux Foundation — and maybe more precisely the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, the home of the incredibly popular Kubernetes project.

It turns out, that’s only part of his misgivings about the current state of open-source foundations, though. I sat down with Shuttleworth after his keynote to discuss his comments, as well as Canonical’s announcements around open infrastructure.

One thing that’s worth noting at the outset is that the OpenStack Foundation is using this event to highlight that fact that it has now brought in more new open infrastructure projects outside of the core OpenStack software, with two of them graduating from their pilot phase. Shuttleworth, who has made big bets on OpenStack in the past and is seeing a lot of interest from customers, is not a fan. Canonical, it’s worth noting, is also a major sponsor of the OpenStack Foundation. He, however, believes, the foundation should focus on the core OpenStack project.

“We’re busy deploying 27 OpenStack clouds — that’s more than double the run rate last year,” he said. “OpenStack is important. It’s very complicated and hard. And a lot of our focus has been on making it simpler and cleaner, despite the efforts of those around us in this community. But I believe in it. I think that if you need large-scale, multi-tenant virtualization infrastructure, it’s the best game in town. But it has problems. It needs focus. I’m super committed to that. And I worry about people losing their focus because something newer and shinier has shown up.”

To clarify that, I asked him if he essentially believes that the OpenStack Foundation is making a mistake by trying to be all things infrastructure. “Yes, absolutely,” he said. “At the end of the day, I think there are some projects that this community is famous for. They need focus, they need attention, right? It’s very hard to argue that they will get focus and attention when you’re launching a ton of other things that nobody’s ever heard of, right? Why are you launching those things? Who is behind those decisions? Is it a money question as well? Those are all fair questions to ask.”

He doesn’t believe all of the blame should fall on the Foundation leadership, though. “I think these guys are trying really hard. I think the common characterization that it was hapless isn’t helpful and isn’t accurate. We’re trying to figure stuff out.” Shuttleworth indeed doesn’t believe the leadership is hapless, something he stressed, but he clearly isn’t all that happy with the current path the OpenStack Foundation is on either.

The Foundation, of course, doesn’t agree. As OpenStack Foundation COO Mark Collier told me, the organization remains as committed to OpenStack as ever. “The Foundation, the board, the community, the staff — we’ve never been more committed to OpenStack,” he said. “If you look at the state of OpenStack, it’s one of the top-three most active open-source projects in the world right now […] There’s no wavering in our commitment to OpenStack.” He also noted that the other projects that are now part of the foundation are the kind of software that is helpful to OpenStack users. “These are efforts which are good for OpenStack,” he said. In addition, he stressed that the process of opening up the Foundation has been going on for more than two years, with the vast majority of the community (roughly 97 percent) voting in favor.

OpenStack board member Allison Randal echoed this. “Over the past few years, and a long series of strategic conversations, we realized that OpenStack doesn’t exist in a vacuum. OpenStack’s success depends on the success of a whole network of other open-source projects, including Linux distributions and dependencies like Python and hypervisors, but also on the success of other open infrastructure projects which our users are deploying together. The OpenStack community has learned a few things about successful open collaboration over the years, and we hope that sharing those lessons and offering a little support can help other open infrastructure projects succeed too. The rising tide of open source lifts all boats.”

As far as open-source foundations in general, he surely also doesn’t believe that it’s a good thing to have numerous foundations compete over projects. He argues that we’re still trying to figure out the role of open-source foundations and that we’re currently in a slightly awkward position because we’re still trying to determine how to best organize these foundations. “Open source in society is really interesting. And how we organize that in society is really interesting,” he said. “How we lead that, how we organize that is really interesting and there will be steps forward and steps backward. Foundations tweeting angrily at each other is not very presidential.”

He also challenged the notion that if you just put a project into a foundation, “everything gets better.” That’s too simplistic, he argues, because so much depends on the leadership of the foundation and how they define being open. “When you see foundations as nonprofit entities effectively arguing over who controls the more important toys, I don’t think that’s serving users.”

When I asked him whether he thinks some foundations are doing a better job than others, he essentially declined to comment. But he did say that he thinks the Linux Foundation is doing a good job with Linux, in large parts because it employs Linus Torvalds . “I think the technical leadership of a complex project that serves the needs of many organizations is best served that way and something that the OpenStack Foundation could learn from the Linux Foundation. I’d be much happier with my membership fees actually paying for thoughtful, independent leadership of the complexity of OpenStack rather than the sort of bizarre bun fights and stuffed ballots that we see today. For all the kumbaya, it flatly doesn’t work.” He believes that projects should have independent leaders who can make long-term plans. “Linus’ finger is a damn useful tool and it’s hard when everybody tries to get reelected. It’s easy to get outraged at Linus, but he’s doing a fucking good job, right?”

OpenStack, he believes, often lacks that kind of decisiveness because it tries to please everybody and attract more sponsors. “That’s perhaps the root cause,” he said, and it leads to too much “behind-the-scenes puppet mastering.”

In addition to our talk about foundations, Shuttleworth also noted that he believes the company is still on the path to an IPO. He’s obviously not committing to a time frame, but after a year of resetting in 2018, he argues that Canonical’s business is looking up. “We want to be north of $200 million in revenue and a decent growth rate and the right set of stories around the data center, around public cloud and IoT.” First, though, Canonical will do a growth equity round.

Nov
15
2018
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Canonical plans to raise its first outside funding as it looks to a future IPO

It’s been 14 years since Mark Shuttleworth first founded and funded Canonical and the Ubuntu project. At the time, it was mostly a Linux distribution. Today, it’s a major enterprise player that offers a variety of products and services. Throughout the years, Shuttleworth self-funded the project and never showed much interest in taking outside money. Now, however, that’s changing.

As Shuttleworth told me, he’s now looking for investors as he looks to get the company on track to an IPO. It’s no secret that the company’s recent re-focusing on the enterprise — and shutting down projects like the Ubuntu phone and the Unity desktop environment — was all about that, after all. Shuttleworth sees raising money as a step in this direction — and as a way of getting the company in shape for going public.

“The first step would be private equity,” he told me. “And really, that’s because having outside investors with outside members of the board essentially starts to get you to have to report and be part of that program. I’ve got a set of things that I think we need to get right. That’s what we’re working towards now. Then there’s a set of things that private investors are looking for and the next set of things is when you’re doing a public offering, there’s a different level of discipline required.”

It’s no secret that Shuttleworth, who sports an impressive beard these days, was previously resistant to this, and he acknowledged as much. “I think that’s a fair characterization,” he said. “I enjoy my independence and I enjoy being able to make long-term calls. I still feel like I’ll have the ability to do that, but I do appreciate keenly the responsibility of taking other people’s money. When it’s your money, it’s slightly different.”

Refocusing Canonical on the enterprise business seems to be paying off already. “The numbers are looking good. The business is looking healthy. It’s not a charity. It’s not philanthropy,” he said. “There are some key metrics that I’m watching, which are the gate for me to take the next step, which would be growth equity.” Those metrics, he told me, are the size of the business and how diversified it is.

Shuttleworth likens this program of getting the company ready to IPO to getting fit. “There’s no point in saying: I haven’t done any exercise in the last 10 years but I’m going to sign up for tomorrow’s marathon,” he said.

The move from being a private company to taking outside investment and going public — especially after all these years of being self-funded — is treacherous, though, and Shuttleworth admitted as much, especially in terms of being forced to setting short-term goals to satisfy investors that aren’t necessarily in the best interest of the company in the long term. Shuttleworth thinks he can negotiate those issues, though.

Interestingly, he thinks the real danger is quite a different one. “I think the most dangerous thing in making that shift is the kind of shallowness of the unreasonably big impact that stock price has on people’s mood,” he said. “Today, at Canonical, it’s 600 people. You might have some that are having a really great day and some that are having a shitty day. And they have to figure out what’s real about both of those scenarios. But they can kind of support each other. […] But when you have a stock ticker, everybody thinks they’re having a great day, or everybody thinks they’re having a shitty day in a way that may be completely uncorrelated to how well they’re actually doing.”

Shuttleworth does not believe that IBM’s acquisition of its competitor Red Hat will have any immediate effect on its business, though. What he does think, however, is that this move is making a lot of people rethink for the first time in years the investment they’ve been making in Red Hat and its enterprise Linux distribution. Canonical’s promise is that Ubuntu, as well as its OpenStack tools and services, are not just competitive but also more cost-effective in the long run, and offer enterprises an added degree of agility. And if more businesses start looking at Canonical and Ubuntu, that can only speed up Shuttleworth’s (and his bankers’) schedule for hitting Canonical’s metrics for raising money and going public.

Jul
20
2017
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Managed private cloud stacks trying to find their way in the enterprise

 For a long time, traditional IT resisted the cloud, but that has changed in recent years as companies have come to realize that they can’t survive without the agility, scalability and economics that only a public cloud approach can provide. Yet in spite of the clear advantages the public cloud brings, there are still many companies out there that resist it for a variety of… Read More

Apr
05
2017
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Canonical ends development of its phone to focus on cloud and IoT

 Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux distribution, long had aspirations to become a player in the mobile phone and tablet world, too. You can’t easily buy an Ubuntu-powered phone today (at least not in the U.S.), but over the years, a few have come and gone. As Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth announced today, however, the company will end its investment in the phone… Read More

Jul
06
2016
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Canonical-Pivotal partnership makes Ubuntu preferred Linux distro for Cloud Foundry

Pivotal offices. Pivotal, developers of the Cloud Foundry open source cloud development platform and Canonical, the company behind the popular Ubuntu Linux distribution, announced a partnership today where Ubuntu becomes the preferred operating system for Cloud Foundry.
In fact, the two companies have been BFFs since the earliest days of Cloud Foundry when it was an open source project developed at VMware. Read More

Aug
16
2015
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IBM Teams With Canonical To Put Ubuntu Linux On Mainframes

IBM LinuxOne Mainframe You might not think that ‘Linux’ and ‘mainframe’ belong in the same sentence, but IBM has been putting various flavors of Linux on its mainframe computers for 15 years. Today IBM and Canonical announced that the two companies were teaming up to build one running Ubuntu Linux. The new unit is called the LinuxOne. The announcement comes as part of a broader strategy… Read More

May
18
2015
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Canonical Launches Ubuntu Advantage Storage Support Service For Ceph And OpenStack Swift

ubuntu_logo_wood_cropped Canonical may still be mostly known for its Ubuntu Linux distribution, but the company now also offers a number of (paid) services for enterprises, often with a focus on the OpenStack platform. At the OpenStack Summit in Vancouver, Canada, Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth today introduced his company’s latest offering: Ubuntu Advantage Storage. Read More

Nov
22
2010
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Cars are so last century … but, so is Linux, right?

This past weekend, I attended the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show. I’m not a huge car buff. I do think that BMW’s are the bomb, and I like Honda’s common sense vehicles, but really, I am NOT a car guy. However, I thought this was an interesting chance to take a look at an industry that, in my opinion, isn’t all that different than the one I’m in.

Now, that may surprise some. Its pretty easy to think that I work for a super advanced company that has started a revolution and sits on the bleeding edge of innovation. I mean, at Canonical, we’re doing all kinds of amazing stuff with “the cloud” and building software that makes peoples’ jaw drop when they see it in action sometimes.

But really, I think we’re more like CODA. CODA has built what looks to be a sustainable, practical electric car. The car itself is not visually stunning, but the idea behind it is. Make an electric car that anyone can buy *and* use. Make it fun, and make sure the business is sustainable. But, in no way is CODA challenging the ideas and revisions that have worked for the 100+ years that the car industry has existed.

CODA is still putting a steering wheel, gas pedals, and gear shift in the cockpit for the driver. There are doors, wipers, lights, and probably floor mats. In much the same way, in Ubuntu, we’re still putting our software out there with the intention that, while its created differently, and affords the user more capabilities, it is basically driven in much the same way as Windows 7 or OS X, mostly as a web, errrr, cloud terminal.

The exciting part is that for $3 of possibly more efficiently produced electricity, you can drive 100 miles. Even more exciting is that the CODA might actually compete with sensibly priced  (but larger) Honda and Toyota sedans, rather than like the Tesla cars that compete with Lexus and BMW’s.

Given this way of thinking, the auto show was extremely interesting. The electric car (open source?) has “arrived”, and the established players are buying the interesting enabling technology like batteries (android’s linux kernel, darwin for mac, etc) from companies like Tesla, and putting them in their established products.

Whether consumers care about either open source or electric cars is another story.. maybe the 2011 LA Auto Show will have an answer for me on at least one of them.


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