Netflix’s director of engineering talked about collaboration driven by industry in a grassroots way with Spinnaker, an open-source, continuous deployment platform.


AUSTIN — Dianne Marsh, director of engineering at Netflix, took the stage at OSCON to talk about collaboration driven by industry in a grassroots way. She talked about Spinnaker, an open source, open source, multi-cloud continuous delivery platform for releasing software changes. The evolution/revolution started from scratch, coming from Asgard, the tool that Netflix originally designed to deploy its application on Amazon cloud.

Asgard started as an internal development project and was eventually released as open source. Although much of it is publicly available, many pieces were private because very specific to Netflix. Also, Asgard was too tied to Amazon and a single zone, too, because that’s what Netflix was using at the time. This approach got old soon: the community aspect with Asgard was an afterthought. There were adopters outside of Netflix but their forks were not easily brought back inside.

Netflix needed a new tool, and more importantly, a new approach to solve the problem. Spinnaker started by asking questions to other cloud providers, including OpenStack, Azure, Google and Amazon and asking them to contribute their code. Netflix doesn’t necessarily need those providers but recognized that there is value in learning from them. The problems of continuous delivery are similar across the industry and collaboration can only bring benefits to all.

What happened with this collaboration generated a lot of interest from the community. Lots of articles were written about how Netflix brought the industry together to solve a problem common to all industry. As a result, a huge set of companies is evaluating and running Spinnaker in production. And Netflix is learning from all of these users: a cool thing that Azure or Google Cloud does can be made available to Amazon users and vice versa.

How to build a collaboration across a diverse industry though? Marsh says the first thing to realize is that by building collaboration, you’re building a remote team. You need to stretch the communication and make that communication happen regularly with other leaders from other cloud providers, meeting with individuals all the time. Sharing the road map is also crucial; be clear on where you’re going. It’s critical, even more important because the use cases need to come from different areas, and you need to make them come together.

Collaboration is built on trust, value input from all sources, not just the big companies. For example, it was the team from Target that brought in support for OpenStack into Spinnaker. At Netflix engineers don’t gets paid to do open source but they get paid to build things for the company. That’s an important reminder, it’s like the putting on your oxygen mask on before helping others.

The final question from Marsh to the open source community is to think about how the experience at Spinnaker can be applied to other projects.