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Meet the Community - Simon Weller - VP of Apache CloudStack

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Simon Weller is the new VP of Apache CloudStack announced in late March 2022. Simon has been an Apache CloudStack PMC member for the last few years. He has a strong technology background in multiple competencies, including networking and systems. In addition to it, he has a significant business development background with both start-ups and established organizations and is a highly experienced strategic thinker and relationship builder.

Currently, Simon Weller is the Vice President Of Technology of Education Networks of America. He is responsible for the technology initiatives at ENA across the Systems, R&D, Internal Systems and Data Architecture and Business Intelligence teams. Simon is also heavily involved in product development and business development.

Ivet Petrova, Marketing Director at ShapeBlue interviewed Simon as part of the Meet the Community Series. You can watch this here. Below, you can find some of the key point’s Simon laid out in the video.

Тhe Evolution of Apache CloudStack: Continue the community vision and drive forward

‘I think that every project that gets accepted under the Apache umbrella always has to try and build that really important base of community, because without that community, you can't survive. We see a lot of projects that have got a lot of excitement and they just fade away. I think what's been really great about CloudStack over the years is that we've managed to really continue that community vision and we've got a really great core group of people that have been around a long time that still have that passion and want to encourage others to participate as well. But the most important thing of open source is, you have to get others to want to contribute and you have to get others to want to give up some of their time and effort in order to make sure that you don't just survive, but that you can actually drive forward a project into the future and make it sustainable.’

The Everyday Problems Open-source Solutions Solve: Building a Long-term sustainability

‘Part of what I've done since I started in technology has always been trying to leverage the best technology and the best open-source solutions that we can. But I think one thing that is often missed by a lot of enterprise environments and organisations is that they think that they can just take and just walk away. But the most important thing to sustainability long term is you have to be able to give back as well. So, part of what my mission has always been working at open source for a long time, is making sure that when we do talk to others and we encourage them to try the technology out and hopefully implement it into production, but also think about how are they going to give back long term so that the product and the project is sustainable.’

The Secret of a Successful Open-source Community: Engagement in all areas

‘I think it's a bit of a misnomer that a lot of people have that you have to be a developer in order to be able to give back to open-source. So, I'm not a great developer, I dabble a little bit, but I'm not going to claim that I'm the best developer suited for any particular environmental project. Where I come in personally is I really try and give back to the user base from an engineering perspective. You've got a problem -how do we help you fix it? You want to implement a potential way of doing things - how can we encourage others to collaborate on it together? So, I think that a lot of people need to get out of that mindset, that you've got to be a coder in order to be able to give back to open source. There are so many other areas that you can contribute. I mean, case in point Ivet, you're fantastic at what you do, but you're not a developer, right? But you are encouraging others through your engagement practises, through organising events, through promoting the project overall to the community. And that is just as important, if not more so than ever writing a line of code. So I think that a lot of people need to start to maybe think about other areas that they can contribute outside of just writing a line of code, because a project doesn't survive long term unless you have that marketing capability, unless you have the outreach and you're able to encourage new participants because ultimately you're always going to have some people leaving the community and you need a long, robust pipeline of new members coming in to help out as well.’

Implementing CloudStack: Scalability, simplicity and reliability

 ‘I think that what draws a lot of people to CloudStack is the fact that it supports a lot of different technologies. And a lot of companies at some point get to a realisation that they have to scale their environment. And doing that with a lot of the other products on the market with a commercial open source can be quite challenging. And case in point, we've seen a lot of folks over the years that have started off with VMware or they might have started off with a public cloud solution like AWS or Azure or Google Cloud. They get to a point and then they figure out, well, how are we going to scale this? And let me explain what I mean by that, because a lot of people right now are saying, well, of course, you can scale AWS or Azure or Google Cloud, you can, but at a massive cost. So, scaling comes in to both how to make money long term if you're a commercial entity. And how to minimise those costs, how do you make it more manageable and how do you get to that next level? So, I think a lot of entities that start looking at that solution, such as Apache CloudStack, I think in not just about the pure technology play, but their thinking about the viability of the product long-term. Typically, what we see is that as new companies get started, or even established companies get started, they see a higher margin opportunity on the front end, and over time that starts to get a bit more commoditized. They're looking for areas of savings in the underlying technology, and I think that's where a lot of people start to look at CloudStack. I think also you see other people and other companies that have been at open-source for a long time. And they might have deployed KVM or some other hypervisor technology. And they just get to that technological point where they can no longer scale managing manually 100 hosts or something like that. And so, they start to look for orchestration methods to make their life easier. And that's really where CloudStack shines.’

The Benefits of Open-source Technology: Much more than cost-savings

‘The number one thing that I always think about is flexibility. And the ability for you to take something that has already been built out and then add new capabilities to it, to meet the mission of your organisation's goals. For example, we've contributed a lot of new features to CloudStack over the years that have been driven by customer demands. And that's the best way to build a business, as you build stuff that customers want to buy. So, I think by utilising open source in general or CloudStack or any open-source tooling, it allows you to take a great set of features and functionality that will scale and then add your own secret sauce to it. Or as we often do, give back that secret sauce to the community so they can get a benefit from it as well.’

Apache CloudStack: When and how it fits?

 ‘I'd like to say that it can suit everyone, but I think that's probably not entirely true. I think that you have to have some level of expertise on your team in order to be able to support it long term. And that doesn't mean that you need to have a massive team. The fact that could be a team one, but it does take, as with any software platform in any project, it does take expertise in order to operate at long term. So, what I would say is, is that if you were thinking about deploying Apache CloudStack and you already have a few Linux chops under your belt, then that's probably more than enough for you to be able to explore and deploy. CloudStack is extraordinarily easy to deploy. We love to say that it just works. And that's a true statement. But if something starts to go south, if something starts to go wrong, you're going to have to start digging in a little better to the underpinnings of how the infrastructure works. Because you have to remember that CloudStack is effectively an orchestrator. It's managing other components. So those other components can go south, but CloudStack could be fine, right? So, it's important that you have a good understanding of how the ecosystem of various underpinnings of CloudStack functions so that you are more empowered to address problems if they do arise.’

The Path of Constant Improvement: From IaaS to building PaaS products on top of Apache CloudStack

‘I think the community is always looking for new ways to improve. No software platform is perfect, right? If it is, then we could just go home, open a bottle of wine, and everything would be great. To be realistic about it, there’s always new features. And the market is evolving at such a rapid pace these days that a lot of organisations are looking for new ways to be able to consume a service or consume a product. And I think that from CloudStack’s perspective, we've been very deliberate about where we plan, where we don't play. So, CloudStack has typically always been an infrastructure as a service orchestrator play. And there are other folks out there that are taking that as the underpinnings and building various platform as a service on top. So, I think there's always areas that we can improve and new features that we could add that are more underpinnings. But I think that one thing that we've always done really good at as a community is knowing where we play and where we don't play, because in the end it's fine to contribute a massive new feature, but if no one's going to support it long term, then it's very difficult to get others to come in and number one, help out with that and to be able to promote it.’

Building a Stable Roadmap Inside an Open-source Community

‘It often depends on open source of how the oversight is run. So, in some open-source projects, someone has decided that they want to open source and software and they put it up on GitHub and they are effectively God. They can do whatever they want. Whether other people support them or not is effectively irrelevant in that picture. But when you've got a large product or service that is inside a more structured entity such as Apache, we have a lot of guidance on how a community should interact. And I think honestly, that is very healthy because we really want others to contribute ideas. We need to have a robust discussion around things. And sometimes that robust discussion can be a bit difficult for certain people. But it is it is crucial that we get by from the community in order to chart the right path. So, I wouldn't say it's a typical product management style roadmap that we see in open source, but it is very important that as ideas are brought to the table, they are discussed and that others are willing to support the overall vision so that we do go in the right direction. I think the other component too and we see this quite a lot in CloudStack is, we have commercial entities out there that are providing support and development services. Good examples of that is ShapeBlue and CloudOps and others. And they have customers that might say, you know what? We want you to develop this new feature for CloudStack, and then they agree to open source it and give it back to the community. So that's also a great way to continue to feature development because those features are often very commercially driven. And considering we are obviously predominantly used by those that commercially driven, those features can be easy to adopt by others as well.’

Release Management: Rapid Development of New Features and Capabilities

‘We try and keep the release cadence pretty consistent overall. We have major releases and we have minor dot releases that are really focussed very much on critical bug fixes because in the end, the operator's utilising CloudStack expect stability. And so, we have to be quite deliberate about what we will allow and what we won't allow. So typically, when we're talking about a major release such as 4.16 or the future for 4.17, we are talking about new features that could be breaking changes. Potentially, we'll have high risk associated with them. If we're talking about 4.16.1, then we're talking about very, very minor changes that are totally focussed on stability and bug fixes. In terms of how we decide what features are going to new major release milestones, that's really got a lot to do with what has been reviewed and what the overall community is comfortable with. So, if an organisation or a developer brings in a new feature, they will open a pull request and they will request that to be merged and they will request review of that pull request via members of the community. And the members of the community will then make suggestions, or they might say, you know what, this is a cool feature, but we think it might break something else. And so, we would work with that contributor to figure out maybe how to re-implement that. But a very important part of CloudStack is stability. So, we always smoke test all of the new features that come in because we want to make sure that we are providing that long term stability that our users expect.’

Becoming Part of Apache CloudStack: An advice for developers

‘CloudStack is a huge project. I mean, the amount of code at times is a bit mind boggling. And I think the number one thing that I would recommend to someone who wants to get into development is become part of the mailing lists. You know, we have great development mailing lists, we have great user mailing lists and get a test environment set up, start to play with it, start to understand the features, how the features work in your environment, and then start to explore the code. And don't be scared of asking questions. You know, we have a great group of people who are really, really willing to help. And I, for one, want to make sure that anyone who comes to the community is going to get a benefit of being able to hopefully avoid the pain and suffering that some of us have gone through trying to figure out how certain things work. If you’re trying to implement something in a particular driver, I guarantee there’s someone that has already suffered that pain before. So just asking on the mailing list, we can find that right person for you and they can hopefully help shortcut that learning curve. And the events are fantastic. During the COVID era which has obviously been challenging for all of us, we have had some of our biggest online events. Ivet you have produced and made them super successful which is fantastic. And so, it’s just great seeing all these new people come out of the woodwork who are willing to learn and willing to become part of the community.’

The Targets of the VP: Simon’s vision for the CloudStack development

‘I’m very lucky that the PMC’s voted for me to be in this role and I just want to thank them for the support. Really, I just am going to be continuing on from the trailblazing people before me. We’ve had a great group of others that have been in the VP position over the last decade. And I think the number one thing that every single person in this role wants, is to help drive forward the vision in the community around Apache CloudStack. So, that’s really what I want to help do, I want to continue to talk to as many people as possible and hopefully encourage them to be part of the community so that we can continue to see the widescale success that we’re known for. And I think part of getting out there and promoting the overall project is the desire to have more users. Because in the end we need that strong user base to not just survive, but to thrive. And there’s always going to be a new use case that someone figures out. I think what we are starting to see more and more in the enterprise community right now is that public cloud is always going to be there. And I think that as some larger enterprises start to look at their costs associated with that, their starting to look a little bit more wider field of what the other options might be. So, we’re seeing more and more companies saying, well look I know we said we weren’t going to go and rent co-locations space again and put in servers and run our own cloud. But we should really run the numbers and figure out what they would look like’

CloudStack in 3 words

‘It just works’