Nutanix vs. GlusterFS or Projects are not Products 

July 23, 2013


Nutanix vs. GlusterFS or Projects are not Products

Anyone who knows me knows, that I’ve been a VMware user for a long time. I’ve spent a large chunk of my career building virtualization solutions for different companies based on VMware tech. I’ve been active in the VMware community, and I’ve got to say it’s one of the healthiest I’ve seen in a long time. There’s a ton of interesting things going on and a robust and solid ecosphere of partners developing really great products with VMware as a core component of their products.

Those of you who REALLY know me also know that I’m a passionate proponent for Open Source and Free Software wherever it makes sense. Open Source empowers customers, users, and developers to participate more intimately with how their software evolves. I’m also a fan of organizations paying for the Free Software they consume as well, which not only addresses support requirements for most organizations, but it also encourages organizations to “have a stake” in how the products are being built, and how those projects evolve.

That last sentence is critical. Projects are not products. As worlds collide, and as proprietary companies not normally exposed to or involved with traditional open source projects start getting involved, it’s easy for them to occasionally say things that will cause those of us in the community to scratch our heads. But what do we mean when we say “projects aren’t products”?

What does that even mean?
First, take a look at this:

As an example, let’s say a Red Hat engineer (or a customer, or a Fedora contributor, or a partner vendor like IBM, or ANYONE really) wants to add a cool new feature specifically to RHEL, Red Hat’s flagship product. The new feature would first be added to Fedora, tested, hardened, and when stable, if selected, rolled into the downstream product, RHEL. This “upstream first” methodology keeps the “community of developers” front and center, and it doesn’t hold things back from what is contributed to the Open Source project.[1]

Similarly, new features and functionality for Red Hat Enterprise Storage get added to Gluster first. Gluster is the project, whereas Red Hat Enterprise Storage is the product. This isn’t stopping companies from deploying projects into production, many companies do (I’m guessing to the chagrin of sales folks everywhere) but overall, it helps the community with users and developers of all types, as feedback and bug reports are public for EVERYONE. Remember, projects like Gluster can’t exist behind a wall, because contributors come from lots of different companies and backgrounds. Everyone is welcome to submit code and patches, as well as file bug reports. This (IMHO) is what makes these Open Source projects great, and also what tends to drive the most confusion with proprietary companies trying to interact with them in the wild.


This was a recent post
by Binny Gill, the Director of Engineering for Nutanix. I won’t get into the stream of back and forth that happened after this was posted, I just wanted to share my thoughts about this from someone who has chosen to live in both worlds for a long time. [2]

It’s easy to bash on Open Source projects. With all of the mailing lists for users and developers public and if you treat them as competitive, you’ve got a target rich environment from which to pull all the ammo you need to smash them into the dirt. Every single one. That’s by design though, as most projects are interested in developing in the open. The beauty of this is, if you want to engage the community, even if you feel like you work at a “competitor”, you can do so! Join the mailing list, grab the source, watch, learn. That’s what it’s there for. I’d actually encourage Nutanix employees to download and test out the new libgfapi and kvm-qemu integration against NDFS. I know Nutanix has solid KVM support and I know their engineers are rock stars, so it would actually be pretty awesome to see a side by side comparison. Data data data!

Comparing products with projects comes off like a cheap shot. For example, grabbing a single bug report from an outdated version of Gluster and claiming Gluster itself is not enterprise ready. If NDFS were an open source project, including an upstream project with publicly available user and developer mailing lists, where all new patches and bugs were reported, I’m willing to bet there would be plenty of “non-enterprise ready” commentary available. But it doesn’t. It isn’t Open Source. The support logs aren’t public. It gets to only put its best foot forward in the pubic sphere.

Personally, I’d love to see Nutanix add some real gasoline to their support of Open Source by contributing NDFS back to the community as an upstream project. Especially, if it is the best of the best. Then we’d ALL be able to move beyond twitfights and one-sided performance testing (although I’m still interested in what the numbers would look like). It would also add another solid option for open source enterprise storage product offerings. The more the merrier. With the adoption rates of Nutanix within the VMware scope, I don’t doubt it’s awesome-sauce with a side of amazing. I can’t imagine how Nutanix contributing an Open Source storage component would impact the converged hardware sales and support space they’re currently rocking. While I can’t see it happening any time soon, I’d love to rock some Open Source NDFS love in my home lab.

Personally, I’m thrilled to see more closed source vendors consuming and supporting open source virtualization projects. I think is a safe way to get started. More involvement should be encouraged. Companies like Nutanix already understand the value prop of Open Source in their space and are focused on making things like KVM and OpenStack rock with NDFS and the Nutanix platform. It’s a hell of a start and it makes sense. Some of the most exciting innovative technologies evolving today are Open Source projects. And most of them are occurring within Upstream Open Source Projects.

In the meantime, I’ll just stick with KVM and Gluster in my home lab and do what I can to improve the upstream projects and look forward to the conversations at VMworld this year.

[1] I’m aware there are TONS of different ways to do open source, and lots of other projects do them differently. For Red Hat, the “Upstream First” mantra means that everyone can contribute, and everyone can get a seat at the table if they want it. I understand this is overly simplistic, but I hope you get the idea.

[2] Thankfully, all the right folks now are talking on twitter about technical differences and explaining feature functionality and architecture. It’s unfortunate that with all of the latest and greatest features of gluster available to Nutanix to review and tinker with but I don’t think they have a “competitive” lab set up with Gluster for testing. (Hey Nutanix, give me a ring I’d love to set up a geo-replicated Gluster cluster for you with zero software costs)

1 Comment

  • Jeff Darcy says:
    July 23, 2013 at 1:33 am
    Hi, Theron. Good of you to point out the essential asymmetry when only one competitor can trawl the other’s bug or email lists looking for possible negatives. I think that’s often overlooked, and makes it even more important than usual for both sides to exercise some diligence before making claims. One thing I’d add is that the availability of *the software itself* (not just information about it) raises that bar still further. I think what bothered me and others about Binny’s false claims was that it would have been so easy for him to see that they’re false. The code is freely downloadable. He could have installed and run it in about two minutes and actually *observed* the rename behavior (for example) instead of making the worst possible assumption and then tweeting that as fact.Being wrong about such things is OK. Not everyone understands how consistent hashing works, and I’m always glad to help them toward that understanding (see e.g. [1] and [2] in this case). However, failure to exercise due diligence in finding answers before making negative competitive claim is not the same as being wrong. It would be the same if I just burped out a claim that NDFS doesn’t flush properly and loses data when you pull power. For all I know it does, but I have no basis for making such a claim if I’ve never even tried NDFS. Even with the excuse that their software isn’t so readily available, that would be irresponsible and underhanded.So yeah, GlusterFS has some warts and missing features. (In this case *had*, but I could write a whole separate post on my own blog about the ethics of making current claims based on old versions.) We not only admit them, but we often go out of our way to solicit feedback on what solutions users would prefer. Maybe Binny’s fishing expedition (still in progress on Twitter as I write this) will even help us find further opportunities for improvement. That’s how the open-source “sausage factory” works, and why open source ultimately wins over closed source where such opportunities forever remain hidden until customers suffer the consequences.[1]


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