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Do Open Source Communities Have a Social Responsibility?

November 29, 2013 in Syndicated

This post continues my holiday detour into things not necessarily tech related. Forgive me this indulgence – there is at least one more post I’ll make in a similar vein.

Open Source communities are different. At least, I’ve always felt that they are. Think of the term “community manager.” If you’re a community manager in an open source community your responsibilities include, but are not limited to: product management, project management, enabling your employer’s competition, enabling people’s success without their paying you, marketing strategy and vision, product strategy and vision, people management (aka cat-herding), event management, and even, sometimes, basic IT administration and web development. If you ask a community manager in some other industry, they do anywhere from half of those things to, at most, 3/4. But even the most capable  community manager in a non-open source field will not do at least two of the things mentioned, enabling your competitors and enabling “freeloaders”. (Before anyone says anything – no, enabling non-paying contributors to upload free content that the your employer uses to rake in ad revenue doesn’t count for the latter. That’s called tricking people into contributing free labor to a product you sell.)

So it would seem that Open Source community management is a different beast, a much more comprehensive set of duties and, dare I say it, a proving ground for executive leadership. There are other differences, too, that make the scope of open source communities different and more expansive. Beginning with the GNU project and the Free Software Foundation, the roots of open source are enmeshed with social responsibility, but do modern open source communities continue to carry the flame of social responsibility?

One of the things that attracted me to open source communities in the beginning was the sense that by participating in them, I was making the world a better place. And by that, I don’t mean in the Steve Jobs sense, where “making the world a better place” means “anything that fattens my wallet and strips people of their information rights.” I mean actually creating something that adds value to others without expecting any form of monetary remuneration. Others have called this a “gift economy” but I’m not sure that’s exactly correct. I mean, I’ve always been paid for my open source work, which is different from other social advocates who literally make nothing for their efforts. Regardless, there’s a sense that I’m enabling a better world while also drawing a nice paycheck, which certainly beats making the world crappier while drawing an even bigger paycheck.

Anyway, throughout my open source community career, I’ve seen all sorts of social causes at work: bridging the digital divide, defining information rights and, more recently, gender and ethnic equality in technology. Because of our social activism roots the question becomes, how much responsibility do we have as open source advocates to carry the torch for related causes? Take the Ada Initiative, for example. Does it not behoove us to do our part for gender equality in high tech? How many open source conferences have you been to that were >90% male? Does saying that “well, the code is open, so anyone can participate” really cut it? If we’re really going to address the problem of the digital divide, does it not make sense to more aggressively recruit women and under-represented minorities into the fold?

If we really want to rid the world or proprietary software, I don’t see how we can do that without adding in people who currently do not actively participate in open source communities. There’s also been a disturbing trend whereby the more commercial communities have begun to separate themselves from the communities with more social activism roots, dividing the hippies from the money-makers. As I noted in my previous post, the hippies were right the whole time about the four freedoms, so perhaps we should listem to them more closely on these other issues? Think about it – if we more aggressively recruit from under-represented portions of society, would that not add a much-needed influx of talent and ambition? Would that not, then, make our communities that much more dynamic and productive? I’ve always held that economics has a long-term liberal bias, and I think this is an opportunity to put that maxim to the test.

This holiday season, let’s think about the social responsibility of open source communities and its participants. Let’s think about ways we can bring the under-represented into the fold.

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It Was Never About Innovation

November 27, 2013 in Syndicated

This is the first in a series of articles about innovation and open computing. Because it’s a holiday time of year in the USA, I’ve decided that these next few articles will be a detour from the usual stuff you’ll find here.

Ever since a few of us got together to form the Open Cloud Initiative, I’ve looked at cloud computing with awe, but also mistrust. There are many good things that can come of cloud computing initiatives, but there’s also the opportunity (some might say inevitability) of abuse and exploitation.

Over the last few months, I’ve made a point of giving a talk at various conferences with the title of “It Was Never About Innovation.” The point being that Open Source software proved victorious in the data center, not because developers necessarily wanted to release more software under an open source license or because open source development models are necessarily more innovative. No, as I see it, open source led to more innovation and took over the data center because of the basic ground rules that were laid down from the beginning with the intent of creating an ecosystem that espoused the four freedoms as enumerated by Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation. It was those ground rules that leveled the playing field, forcing developers to treat end users as equal partners in the game of software development. You will note that it was open source that took over the data center, not freemium free-as-in-beer software. As I’ve grown fond of saying over the last few months, the hippies had it right the whole time. In this model, innovation wasn’t the end goal, it was just a very interesting by-product.

I posit that innovation is much like Douglas Adams’ description of flying in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” which you’ll no doubt recall as the art of throwing yourself at the ground and missing. To attempt to fly would be to miss the point – and fail miserably. No, the trick is to distract yourself before you hit the ground so that flying becomes the end result. Innovation is very much like that. To attempt to be innovative is to perhaps miss the entire point of how the creative process happens. Technology office parks, anyone? Incubators? Are these supposed houses of innovation necessarily more innovative than the alternatives?

My point is that the innovation that’s taking place right now in multiple open source ecosystems is due to the positive feedback loop that was a direct consequence of implementing the four freedoms and mandating that all parties abide by them. It was the implementation of the four freedoms that created a system in which “freeloaders”, those who don’t pay anything for software, could be every bit as important as the developer or even paying customer. If developers didn’t necessarily want to participate in an open ecosystem, which forced participants into abiding by rules that weren’t necessarily in their direct self-interest, why, then, did they willingly participate?

That was the question I set out to answer way back in 2005, when I wrote “There is no Open Source Community.” The impetus for that paper was when I found myself unable to answer the essential question, “Why do developers willingly release open source software? Was it out of some sense of charity? Of providing for the greater good?” One of the most startling discoveries in my young career, back when I worked on SourceForge.net at VA Software, was that most developers who write open source software don’t really care about the concepts of “open source” or “free software”. At the time, we conducted a survey of developers on SourceForge.net and were surprised to discover that they really didn’t give two tosses about the four freedoms. They weren’t free software advocates, and yet they were still free software participants. But why?

What I discovered by working through thought experiments and measuring the results of my model versus reality was that developers didn’t write open source software because they wanted to – they wrote it because they had to. There is an economic incentive for developers to participate in open source communities due to three major trends:

1. The ubiquity of internet access

2. Possibly as a direct result of #1, the ubiquity of developers writing software, and

3. Also as a direct result of the previous bullet, the price of any given feature in software is asymptotic to zero over time.

When the forces of economics put constant downward price pressure on software, developers look for other ways to derive income. Given the choice between simply submitting to economic forces and releasing no-cost software in proprietary form, developers found open source models to be a much better deal. Some of us didn’t necessarily like the mechanics of those models, which included dual licensing and using copyleft as a means of collecting ransom, but it was a model in which developers could thrive. I wrote this back in 2005, all from the developer’s and software vendor’s point of view. For years, I struggled with how to incorporate the end user’s point of view. I simply didn’t find the problem that interesting to contemplate. Of course end users would take to open source software: who doesn’t want to get access to stuff free-of-charge?

Recently I started asking other questions as I contemplated the state of cloud computing and how it relates to open source economics. For example, if end users have the choice between something free-of-charge but proprietary versus open source software, how and why did open source win the day? If we believe that end users played a role in the model, and I think it’s clear that they did, why did they make this choice? Often I’m told that customers don’t care about open source or freedom, because they just want solutions that work. And yet, we have evidence that customers very much do care about those things. If they didn’t, why the overwhelming demand for software that’s open source? Also, the cost of acquiring software is minimal compared to the cost of maintaining software deployments, so why is the cost-free aspect of open source even a factor? One could argue that the speed and agility of acquiring something free-of-charge leads to ubiquity, but why prefer open source? After all, we’ve been told for many years that end users rarely use the direct access to software to make changes under the hood – they usually end up relying on the software developer for that, just as in the proprietary model. We simply have not understood very well why this process works.

What I’ve come to believe is that it’s all about agility and, yes, the four freedoms. In fact, those two things are very much related. Think about it: there is no such thing as a single vendor for everything in the modern data center. That’s impossible at the moment (and, one could argue, ever). Data centers have incorporated automation and orchestration of the different layers of software stacks that must interact seamlessly so that the operators can go home at night and not suffer through incessant pager alerts. These layers need to inter-operate at levels of complexity that make lesser operators fall asleep weeping, unsure if they could rebuild all of their services if called upon. One very telling anecdote regarding this phenomenon came from one such operators who casually commented to me that “if our data center went down and we were forced to do a complete reboot, we wouldn’t know how to do it.”

In this scenario, you have to rely on things that allow you to automate and orchestrate at will, on your timetable, not that of a vendor. Think of all the projects that Netflix, Twitter and Facebook have released that allow them to orchestrate massive amounts of software and data in ways that deliver services without single points of failure. There is no universe in which this could be done with proprietary software. This is where the four freedoms come in. By creating an ecosystem that mandated the four freedoms, end users, consequentially, were able to participate in this ecosystem for the first time as equal partners to the developers. This dramatically changed the dynamics of customer-vendor relationships. In the world of open source software, end users have the freedom to be as agile as they will ever need to be. They can report problems, patch software, release new versions if the other developers don’t step up, and work in a system that allows them to deliver solutions with much faster times to market. The other developers, perhaps pure software vendors or also developer-operators, also benefit by virtue of the fact that willing participants in the form of end users create better software, and thus begins the virtuous cycle.

To review:

Developers write version 0.1 of some set of tools → end users evaluate software and decide how valuable it is → if it’s usable, end users either add patches, file bug reports, send feedback or all of the above → developers incorporate feedback, accept or reject patch submissions, rewrite portions of the code → end users evaluate and either use or discard.

Lather, rinse, repeat. One couldn’t have set out to design a system that was as agile and innovative, which is precisely my point! This system works because the open source ecosystem is a level playing field, and there is an economic incentive for all parties. Developers don’t rule over end users, and end users, by definition, can’t rule the process because they don’t produce the code, but it was their adoption of open source solutions that forced the hands of developers. In this model, developers showed up to fill customer demand. It was this level playing field, which was a direct result of implementing the four freedoms, that led to all the innovation that happens today. And as we have all-too-often been reminded, humans don’t generally set out to create level playing fields, which is why groups of people could never have intended to create this feedback loop. All the various parties would have at various points become too greedy, protecting their own interests, thus the reason it had to begin with the four freedoms.

And look where we are now – in a world where much of the innovation is just as likely (if not more) to come from “users” as it is from venerable software vendors. This is the world we live in today, where a company like Yahoo developed some data analysis software internally and decided that it might be useful for the rest of the world to work with, thus beginning the Hadoop juggernaut. Rackspace, long known for its hosting and support, not software development, collaborates with NASA and unleashes what became the OpenStack ecosystem. In both cases, the role of traditional software vendors was reduced to, at first, fast followers, not lead innovators or developers. None of this would have been possible without stating, from the beginning, that every software program must honor these freedoms:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1).
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3).

This is all fine and dandy, but what does this mean in a cloud computing context? You’ll have to wait for the next installment, coming soon!

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On the Gluster vs Ceph Benchmarks

November 12, 2013 in Syndicated

If you’ve been following the Gluster and Ceph communities for any length of time, you know that we have similar visions for open software-defined storage and are becoming more competitive with each passing day. We have been rivals in a similar space for some time, but on friendly terms – and for a couple of simple reasons: 1.) we each have common enemies in the form of proprietary big storage and 2.) we genuinely like each other. I’m a Sage Weil fan and have long been an admirer of his work. Ross Turk and Neil Levine are also members of the Inktank clan whom I respect and vouch for on a regular basis. There are others I’m forgetting, and I hope they don’t take it personally!

So you can imagine the internal debate I had when presented with the first results of a Red Hat Storage comparison with Ceph in a set of benchmarks commissioned by the Red Hat Storage product marketing group (for reference, they’re located here). If you saw my presentations at the OpenStack Summit in Hong Kong, then you know I went with it, and I’m glad I did. While the Ceph guys have been very good about not spouting FUD and focusing instead on the bigger picture – taking down EvilMaChines, for example – others in the clan of OpenStack hangers-on have not been so exemplary.

I don’t know who, exactly, the Red Hat Storage marketing group was targeting with the benchmarks, but I am targeting a very specific audience, and it isn’t anyone associated with Inktank or the Ceph project. I am targeting all the people in the OpenStack universe who wrote us off and wanted to declare the storage wars over. I’m also a bit tired of the inexplicable phrase that “Ceph is faster than Gluster”, often said with no qualification, which I’ve known for sometime was not true. It’s that truism, spouted by some moustachioed cloudy hipsters at an OpenStack meetup, that rankles me – almost as much as someone asking me in a public forum why we shouldn’t all ditch Gluster for Ceph. The idea that one is unequivocally faster or better than the other is completely ridiculous – almost as ridiculous as the thought that hipsters in early 20th century drag are trusted experts at evaluating technology. The benchmarks in question do not end any debates. On the contrary, they are just the beginning.

I felt uneasy when I saw Sage show up at our Gluster Cloud Night in Hong Kong, because I really didn’t intend for this to be an “In yo’ face!” type of event. I did not know beforehand that he would be there, but even if I had, I wouldn’t have changed my decision to show the results. The “Ceph is faster” truism had become one of those things that everyone “knows” without the evidence to support it, and the longer we let it go unopposed, the more likely it was to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Also, while we may have common enemies, it has become increasingly clear that the OpenStack universe would really prefer to converge around a single storage technology, and I will not let that happen without a fight.

We’ve radically improved GlusterFS and the Gluster Community over the last couple of years, and we are very proud of our work. We don’t have to take a back seat to anyone; we don’t have to accept second place to anyone; and we’re not going to. In the end, it’s very clear who the winners of this rivalry will be. It won’t be Ceph, and it won’t be Gluster. It will be you, the users and developers, who will benefit from the two open source heavyweights scratching and clawing their way to the top of the heap. Rejoice and revel in your victory, because we work for you.

To see the benchmark results for yourself, see the Red Hat Storage blog post on the subject.

To see the VAR Guy’s take, see this article.

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The Great Gluster Euro Tour: London and Frankfurt, Oct 29 and 30

October 25, 2013 in Syndicated

We’ve been pushing out more info about our upcoming Gluster Days next week in London on October 29 and Frankfurt on October 30. The agendas are solid – if you attend, you will have a very solid grasp of the Gluster Community, what you can do with GlusterFS, how do develop apps with it, and how to deploy for OpenStack and Hadoop workloads.

Part of having a comprehensive storage offering is telling this story to the world and showing it in action. I’m happy to report that we’ll have much to show off in this area. Additionally, we’re happy to have Udo Seidel from Amadeus talking about his experience deploying GlusterFS with OpenStack to offer filesystems as a service on their internal cloud.

Learn about cloud storage, unstructured data, and big data. Learn about how to develop applications with GlusterFS.

Come for the Gluster, stay for the drinks!


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GlusterFS 3.4.1 Packages for Ubuntu Saucy (13.10)

October 18, 2013 in Syndicated

As a long-time Ubuntu user, I’ve worked to make sure that Debian and Ubuntu are first-class citizens in the Gluster Community. This is not without its challenges – most Gluster developers live in the Fedora/CentOS/RHEL hemisphere, and the GlusterFS version available in Ubuntu is a rather old 3.2.7, two major releases behind the latest and greatest, 3.4.1.

However, I’m happy to report that when the Saucy Salamander hit the download servers yesterday, we had DEBs readily available for downloading. This is completely due to our active community and one of our stars, not to mention community board member, Louis ‘semiosis’ Zuckerman. He had his packages uploaded on October 15, two days before the official Ubuntu 13.10 GA release.

Semiosis’ PPA is the official location for Gluster Community-supported packages of GlusterFS for Ubuntu. Give it a try, Ubuntu users. And as an added bonus, 13.10 also includes packages of OpenStack Havana – you know what that means.

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Gluster Community Congratulates OpenStack Developers on Havana Release

October 17, 2013 in Syndicated

The Gluster Community would like to congratulate the OpenStack Foundation and developers on the Havana release. With performance-boosting enhancements for OpenStack Block Storage (Cinder), Compute (Nova) and Image Service (Glance), as well as a native template language for OpenStack Orchestration (Heat), the OpenStack Havana release points the way to continued momentum for the OpenStack community. The many storage-related features in the Havana release coupled with the growing scope of typical OpenStack deployments demonstrate the need for scale-out, open software-defined storage solutions. The fusion of GlusterFS open software-defined storage with OpenStack software is a match made in cloud heaven.

Naturally, the Gluster Community would like to focus on OpenStack enhancements that pertain directly to our universe:

  • OpenStack Image Service (Glance)
    • OpenStack Cinder can now be used as a block-storage back-end for the Image Service. For Gluster users, this means that Glance can point to the same image as Cinder, which means it is not necessary to copy the entire image before deploying, saving some valuable time.
  • OpenStack Compute (Nova)
    • OpenStack integration with GlusterFS utilizing the QEMU/libgfapi integration reduces the kernel space to user space context switching to significantly boost performance.
    • When connecting to NFS or GlusterFS backed volumes, Nova now uses the mount options set in the Cinder configuration. Previously, the mount options had to be set on each Compute node that would access the volumes. This allows operators to more easily automate the scaling of their storage platforms.
    • QEMU-assisted snapshotting is now used to provide the ability to create cinder volume snapshots, including GlusterFS.
  • OpenStack Orchestration (Heat)
    • Initial support for native template language (HOT). For OpenStack operators, this presents an easier way to orchestrate services in application stacks.
  • OpenStack Object Storage (Swift)
    • There is nothing in the OpenStack Havana release notes pertaining to GlusterFS and Swift integration but we always like to talk about the fruits of our collaboration with Swift developers. We are dedicated to using the upstream Swift project API/proxy layer in our integration, and the Swift team has been a pleasure to work with, so kudos to them.
  • OpenStack Data processing (Savanna)
    • This incubating project enables users to easily provision and manage Apache Hadoop clusters on OpenStack. It’s a joint project between Red Hat, Mirantis and HortonWorks and points the way towards “Analytics as a Service”. It’s not an official part of OpenStack releases yet, but it’s come very far very quickly, and we’re excited about the data processing power it will spur.

To give an idea of the performance improvements in the GlusterFS-QEMU integration that Nova now takes advantage of, consider the early benchmarks below published by Bharata Rao, a developer at IBM’s Linux Technology Center.


FIO READ numbers

aggrb (KB/s) minb (KB/s) maxb (KB/s)
FUSE mount 15219 3804 5792
QEMU GlusterFS block driver (FUSE bypass) 39357 9839 12946
Base 43802 10950 12918

FIO WRITE numbers

aggrb (KB/s) minb (KB/s) maxb (KB/s)
FUSE mount 24579 6144 8423
QEMU GlusterFS block driver (FUSE bypass) 42707 10676 17262
Base 42393 10598 15646


“Base” refers to an operation directly on a disk filesystem.

Havana vs. Pre-Havana

This is a snapshot to show the difference between the Havanna and Grizzly releases with GlusterFS.

Grizzly Havana
Glance – Could point to the filesystem images mounted with GlusterFS, but had to copy VM image to deploy it Can now point to Cinder interface, removing the need to copy image
Cinder – Integrated with GlusterFS, but only with Fuse mounted volumes Can now use libgfapi-QEMU integration for KVM hypervisors
Nova – No integration with GlusterFS Can now use the libgfapi-QEMU integration
Swift – GlusterFS maintained a separate repository of changes to Swift proxy layer Swift patches now merged upstream, providing a cleaner break between API and implementation


The Orchestration feature we are excited about is not Gluster-specific, but has several touch points with GlusterFS, especially in light of the newly-introduced Manila FaaS project for OpenStack (https://launchpad.net/manila). Imagine being able to orchestrate all of your storage services with Heat, building the ultimate in scale-out cloud applications with open software-defined storage that scales with your application as needed.

We’re very excited about the Havana release and we look forward to working with the global OpenStack community on this and future releases. Download the latest GlusterFS version, GlusterFS 3.4, from the Gluster Community at gluster.org, and check out the performance with a GlusterFS 3.4-backed OpenStack cloud.

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Some Thoughts on Gluster Community Governance

September 3, 2013 in Syndicated

- This is a long description designed to elicit constructive discussion of some recent Gluster Community governance initiatives. For all things related to Gluster Community Governance, see gluster.org/Governance

The recent initiatives around GlusterFS development and project governance have been quite amazing to witness – we have been making steady progress towards a “real” open source model for over a year now, and the 3.5 planning meetings are a testament to that.

You may have also noticed recent announcements about organizations joining the Gluster Community and the formation of a Gluster Community Board. This is part of the same process of opening up and making a better, more active community, but there is a need to define some of the new (and potentially confusing) terminology.

- Gluster Community: What is the Gluster Community? It is a group of developers, users and organizations dedicated to the development of GlusterFS and related projects. GlusterFS is the flagship project of the Gluster Community, but it is not the only one – see forge.gluster.org to get a sense of the scope of the entire ecosystem. Gluster Community governance is different from GlusterFS project governance.

- Gluster Community Board: This consists of individuals from the Gluster Community, as well as representatives of organizations that have signed letters of intent to contribute to the Gluster Community.

- Letter of Intent: document signed by organizations who wish to make material contributions to the Gluster Community. These contributions may take many forms, including code contributions, event coordination, documentation, testing, and more. How organizations may contribute is listed at gluster.org/governance

- Gluster Software Distribution: with so many projects filling out the Gluster Community, there is a need for an incubation process, as well as a need for criteria that determine eligibility for graduating from incubation into the GSD. We don’t yet know how we will do this and are looking for your input.

We realized some time ago that there was quite a demand for contributing to and growing the community, but there was no structure in place to do it. The above is our attempt to create an inclusive community that is not solely dependent on Red Hat and enlists the services of those who view the Gluster Community as a valuable part of their business.

All of this is in-process but not yet finalized. There is an upcoming board meeting on September 18 where we will vote on parts or all of this.

For all links and documents regarding Gluster Community governance, you can always find the latest here: gluster.org/Governance

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Gluster World Tour: Coming to a City Near You

August 19, 2013 in Syndicated

If you’ve been watching the Gluster Community Day Meetup.com page, you’ve noticed lots of activity lately. That’s because we are planning several of these around the world, in addition to a few others we’ve already run this year.

What is a ‘Gluster Community Day?’ It’s a day for in-depth sessions, use cases, demos, and developer content presented by Gluster Community experts representing many layers of today’s cloud and data center infrastructure. A Gluster Community Day is where you learn best practices for deploying, managing and developing with GlusterFS as well as many of the adjunct projects that make up the Gluster Community.

We have several upcoming, and many more that we’re planning. Below is a list of those that we have locked in – check back at gluster.org/meetups/ or meetup.com/Gluster to always see the latest list:

And we’re actively seeking venues in Germany, France, Netherlands, Hong Kong, Singapore, Seoul, Bangalore, Chennai and Taipei. If you’d like to submit a venue for consideration, please send it to cfp (at) gluster.org

Would you like to speak at one of the events above? Send a brief note to cfp (at) gluster.org with a title and brief description of what you would like to speak about. Also include your personal bio, including talks you’ve given at other events.

Look forward to seeing you there!

-John Mark

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Vote Now! Gluster-related Talks at OpenStack Summit

August 19, 2013 in Syndicated

Several talks related to the Gluster Community have been proposed for the OpenStack Summit in Hong Kong in November. You have to vote for your favorites so that we can be sure to get on the program. Remember to vote early and often! Proposed Talks: Shared Storage: Data Availability Across Clouds and Traditional Datacenters Scaling […]

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Community Day @ San Francisco on August 27

August 13, 2013 in Syndicated

(NOTE: if you’re interested in contributing or presenting at the community day, add your ideas in the comments) The Summer of Gluster continues! We’re happy to announce a Community Day for San Francisco on Tuesday, August 27 at Rackspace’s SOMA office in San Francisco. RSVP here. Thanks to Rackspace for agreeing to host – this […]