Melvin Hillsman of the OpenStack User Committee on advocating for users and living up to being the ‘Linux of cloud computing.’


Melvin Hillsman is one of the new members of the OpenStack User Committee, which helps increase operator involvement, collects feedback from the community, works with user groups around the globe and parses through user survey data, to name a few of its efforts. Hillsman was recently elected to the five-member group along with MIT’s Jonathan Proulx and Shamail Tahir of athenaHealth.

Hillsman has worked at Rackspace since 2014 and is currently at the OpenStack Innovation Center as a DevOps technical lead. You’ll also find him giving two presentations and a lightning talk at the upcoming OpenStack Boston Summit.

 He talks to Superuser about what users want now, how OpenStack can live up to being the ‘Linux of cloud computing’ and juggling competing priorities.

You’ve been involved with OpenStack since the beginning – how would you describe its evolution?

I would love to take credit for being “involved” since the very beginning but I actually cannot; so sorry for those who think I have been… But I think it’s a testament to how great the OpenStack community is that I have been welcomed with grace.

I first heard of OpenStack around the time of Grizzly, maybe Folsom and it was basically a black box to me. I was working for a shared hosting provider and cloud computing for me at that time was still not a need or concern for my day to day work. I was interested however in OpenStack as I had heard of it during one of many water cooler talks. I began to read more about cloud in general and OpenStack specifically and have to admit, I was one who decided to stay away for a little bit to see how things panned out. I mean, our customers were not, and honestly most have still not, gotten to the point of taking full advantage of the model cloud computing offers, even though this is rapidly changing every day.

Icehouse was my first foray into the world of OpenStack deployment which I rolled by hand on a single node with multiple VMs using CentOS; my makeshift solution following a type of all-in-one method a lot of newcomers use today.

Since Icehouse, OpenStack has had significant changes and continues to evolve. I would say OpenStack has evolved as could be expected from an open-source software project that has landed well; driving hard to stabilize the code base and as popularity increases working just as hard to implement user feedback.

What are some of the most pressing issues facing OpenStack users now? In the next year?

At the recent Operators Meetup it was clear that users are looking for guidance as OpenStack and technology continues to change very rapidly. Users wanting to adopt OpenStack and those who already have continue to face the same challenge of filling the knowledge gap of not getting enough detail and getting too much. Striking a good balance by providing recommended architectures for deployment, logging and monitoring and incorporating adjacent technologies were just a few of the things that stood out.

I believe in the next year users will continue to want this because of the increase in open-source software from OpenStack IaaS, up through SaaS and PaaS solutions. Users will continue to need advocates to assist them in navigating the “cloudy” waters of open-source software aimed at addressing their needs; users are always looking for the most efficient, cost effective and beautifully crafted solution.

You’ve also been involved with a lot of “extracurricular” OpenStack activities, organizing meet-ups etc. What advice do you have for people who want to get more involved? Any thoughts on avoiding burnout?

Burnout? What does that mean, hehe. Joking aside, the best advice I can offer is just to start somewhere. You can join an IRC meeting, attend a local user group meeting, get to the OpenStack Summit, or any other event hosted by any other OSS group. I got involved in OpenStack extracurricular activities because I believed I saw a need.

In regards to time management, I have a philosophy, you cannot manage time, but you have to work to not allow it to manage you. I am quite a transparent person and so I honestly am not the best at managing how I use my time; working on it, don’t judge me. If you love what you are doing as I do, burnout is a word that “does not compute.” You will have peaks and valleys, highs and lows, but such is life right? If you want to achieve something, even if it is just being involved in a local meetup, you have as much time as everyone else, adjust your daily activities to allow room for participation.

You mention on your bio your interest in keeping up with cloud trends – what are the most important forces shaping it now?

Open-source software has been disrupting traditional technology across pretty much every sector and cloud computing has been helping this exponentially. Cloud trends are driven by more than just how many resources can be pooled, or whether someone can offer a service in the cloud versus on premise hosting and management of a service. I would say the most important force shaping “the cloud” is that ever elusive feeling of security. I offer maybe a different perspective on it in that it is more about stewardship of developers and those enabling developers. It is important in my opinion to consider the impact of this explosion and how we are able or unable to handle the implications.

Emerging markets, increases in automation, greater accessibility to tools and data, shorter systems development life cycles and other triggers should cause us all to take a step back and consider the result of our mad dash into the future. Often the benefit of our work and much less the disadvantages created by our work are considered.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I would like to say to the OpenStack community that I truly believe we are in a critical time where OpenStack stands to be the bedrock of a technology world unprecedented in our history; hindsight is 20/20. OpenStack is positioned as the Linux of cloud computing and we should be encouraged as well as increasingly thoughtful of how we can live up to this. What we decide to do, who we decide to listen to and how we decide to respond is extremely important for our future.

Get involved!

If you’re an OpenStack user, take the OpenStack User Survey and join the mailing list to help the User Committee better define user requirements and serve the community. If you’re interested in volunteering to help with User Committee efforts, please complete this form.

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