Friday, September 20, 2013

Open Matters [feedly]

Open Matters

This is my first post here at Open@Citrix, so I thought I'd start with an introduction and a story about openness. 

Who is this guy: My name is Lars Kurth and am the community manager for the Xen Project; more recently I have also been elected to be the chairman of the Xen Project Advisory Board.

My mission: help the Xen Project do well and prosper!

My background: a lot of different things. My first contact with the open source community took place in 1997 when I worked on various parts of the ARM toolchain - that is compilers, debuggers and instruction set simulators. This set in motion a chain of events that led to a passion for open source, building communities and above all people. Of course technology always was a passion of mine. I worked in a lot of different industries: parallel computing - I was involved in designing development tools for the Eureka Prometheus Project (the largest R&D project ever in the field of driverless cars), semiconductors, mobile and now the cloud industry. I did loads of tools and infrastructure work for ARM, Symbian and Nokia and my journey eventually led me to look after the Xen Project. I also happen to work for Citrix, in the newly formed Open Source Solutions team.

My other passions: travelling to weird and wonderful places, gardening and growing orchids. My favourite weird places: Socotra and Roraima. My favourite orchids: Neomoorea irrorata and Arachnis flos-aeris insignis.

Anyway, enough about me. Let's start with a story ...

A Story of Change

A month after I joined Citrix to re-energize the Xen community, I quickly realized that I would face an uphill struggle. After having worked for two years at the Symbian Foundation - an open source adventure that failed spectacularly - my first reaction was "What have I done! Not again!". Then I took a step back and started analysing what went wrong and find solutions. In any case, the presentation on the right covers the story of what went wrong and how we went about fixing it. From the viewpoint of 2 years later. You may also find this article from Sean Michael Kerner interesting. 

The project faced many issues while competing projects did not. To cut the story short, when I started we had problems with governance, the project didn't collaborate much with other projects and it didn't promote itself very well. The aspect I will focus on here is that Citrix, the original corporate sponsor of the project, pretty much forgot that Xen was not just a product but also a community. There was no malice in this: this separation simply happened because the founders of Xen felt that open source can only work if you build a wall between an open source community and its corporate backers. However, as we know from many of the most successful communities such as Linux, Eclipse, and others, having strong backers makes a big difference. Would Linux be where it is today without IBM, Redhat and Intel? Probably not. And there are many other examples. The effect this had was that Xen was essentially starved of money and support it could otherwise have had.

Nobody said Change was easy

Of course it is not easy for corporations and communities to work together: they have fundamentally different goals. Communities are about People, Companies are about creating Value. These goals often clash. Thriving (open source) communities generally manage to find a good balance and process to constantly Square the Circle of this contradiction.

Back to Citrix: in 2011, I tried to explain this to my manager, Ian Pratt the founder of Xen, through a white paper. A day later, I got a call from Mark Templeton, the Citrix CEO who told me that "this is the first time somebody in the company explained why Citrix should care about the Xen community, and that he would help drive change". The first major milestone for me was when Mark opened the Xen Developer Summit in 2011, where he committed Citrix to change in front of the Xen community. Check out the video. Since then, there has been change. Lots of it. Citrix gave up control of CloudStack by moving it to the Apache Foundation, it created the Xen Project - a Linux Foundation Collaborative Project, it open sourced XenServer and became a founding member of OpenDaylight. Of course all of this was not easy: there were many set-backs, slow-downs, ... But change is never easy and takes time. And it is even harder for large organizations.  

Trying to do the Right Thing consistently!

Coming back to community: I personally believe that if you work for a company and want to succeed in open source, you need to try the Right Thing consistently. What is the right thing? It depends on your circumstances. Of course, you won't always succeed and that's OK. It's trying that counts.

Why is that? Communities are about people, relationships and friendships. These can only work through building Social Capital. In open source this means: Openness, Transparency and Respect for others besides a Passion for the Technology

Comparing 2011, with today: I must say I am quite proud working for Citrix. We have a great open source team, full of passionate people. And Citrix is mostly supportive to what our communities need. The company is definitely trying to do the Right Thing. 

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