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Does OpenStack need a benevolent dictator to succeed?

Adrian Ionel - November 11, 2013

The common argument I hear against OpenStack is this: There is no dominant leader setting a clear direction. Therefore, it lacks a cohesive technical vision and will fizzle out.

I don’t buy it.

Yes, there is value in unified leadership. But OpenStack has other more powerful forces behind it.

First, it is strongly user-driven. OpenStack users don’t just make suggestions. They roll up their sleeves and code. Users like NASA and Rackspace created OpenStack in the first place, and they remain involved in OpenStack’s development and wield huge influence.

Second, OpenStack developers are organized like a biological network made up of loosely coupled, diverse cells. This drives relentless experimentation, mutation and the survival of the fittest. Eventually the best ideas win and move the project forward.

Finally, because there is no single leader, the OpenStack community remains transparent and competitive. Everyone sees exactly what others contribute and are driven to do better.

I suspect the argument for a benevolent dictator is rooted in historical analogy. Linux, Java, MySQL and lately Android all had a clear center of gravity.

But this doesn’t prove that it’s the only (or best) way to build great products. Nature doesn’t have a master designer. It simply mutates, adapting the winning designs. And the outcome is far beyond anything human industry has ever produced.

For OpenStack, its diversity, loose organization and deep involvement of users may turn out to be what matters.

So far the customer adoption speaks for itself.

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