For sale from Pivotal Initiative: Cloud Foundry

The Pivotal Initiative is now selling software and support subscriptions for the Cloud Foundry Platform as a Service (PaaS) and is opening up governance of that effort to bring outside voices into the process.

Pivotal Initiative officeThe addition of “external committers” to the project could ease tensions brewing among some Cloud Foundry backers — companies that built their own PaaSes atop the Cloud Foundry framework.

But then again, the fact that Pivotal is now selling software/support could open new areas of contention with partners that may want to do the same thing. Such is the life of an open source project where coopetition is the rule of engagement.

As set forth in a new blog post, Cloud Foundry is going to add “full-time external committers” to the process. Governance and openness had been an ongoing issue with the PaaS project according to an exec with one Cloud Foundry vendor. “We just didn’t have any visibility into what was going on [inside the project],” he said.

He would like to see the whole effort turned over to a vendor-neutral foundation for management, as Rackspace(s rax) did with OpenStack and IBM(s ibm) did with Eclipse. That didn’t happen here but the addition of outside committers is a step in the right direction and, to be fair, some folks in the OpenStack community complained that Rackspace took its sweet time to make its move.

Lucas Carlson, CEO of AppFog, another Cloud Foundry backer, said he’s seen other good signs from Cloud Foundry. He is thrilled, for example, that the code is back on a public Github repository. It had been removed some time ago. “We see it as a sign of a more open approach from the Cloud Foundry team,” he said.

Collaborators or competitors: a fine line

Some history: The worry initially was that Cloud Foundry, despite all the talk of open-source goodness and just plain openness, was too closely associated with one vendor:  VMware(s vmw). Then, when VMware spun it off to a VMware-and-EMC-backed entity (Pivotal) there was more uncertainty about its future.

There was also concern that some of the Cloud Foundry players were going to take the work they’d done and fork the project altogether because of the lack of visibility into Cloud Foundry plans. Under this definition a “fork” — and yes, I’ll get hate mail on this — that could lead to the creation of several not-always-compatible versions of a project.

For some in the open source community, there is no such thing as a bad fork.But for mere mortals there is worry about an actual ecosystem divergence when many members of the same community start getting their updates from different places instead of relying on a central source, in this case Pivotal. To be fair, there is analogous concern that several versions of OpenStack backed by many vendors — some contributing back more than others — will lead to the same problem. At any rate, that’s the kind of angst Pivotal is trying to lay to rest.

In Thursday’s blog post, James Watters, head of product for Cloud Foundry, reiterated that the project will support multiple clouds, promising “open interfaces, support and continued development on AWS, OpenStack, vCloud and vSphere environments.”

And, he maintained, that the addition of outside committers was always a goal:

” … we are engaged with several organizations about putting dedicated resources on the extended engineering team –we believe this to be a very important step forward. The scale of these external investments is significant and a major milestone in our growth. The heart of Cloud Foundry, however, really comes from individual community contributions and users, so of course, we invite you to join us. All you need to do is send a pull-request.”

Going  orward it will be interesting to see what engineers from which companies will be added as committers. For now, the naysayers appear to be relieved at what Cloud Foundry has done.

Watters endorsed Cloud Foundry’s existing “corporate sponsored, Apache 2 licensed, pull request driven approach” as the right way to go. The outside committers will open up the process going forward, but he also left the door open to further changes. He wrote: “The massive growth of the community and ecosystem requires mediating a diverse set of needs and we will always be open to other governance models for the project in the future.”