on the practice of write-it-down

On the topic of IT practices, one that I hold dear is write-it-down.  There are two sides to write-it-down: feed forward and feed back.

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the integrity of open systems

We are fortunate to have one of the best jobs in the world. We solve puzzles.

What’s the best thing about solving a puzzle? Sharing how you solved it!

When we share our solutions, we make it easy for others to solve the same puzzle. Better yet, we make it possible for someone else to take our solution, improve it, and use it solve a new puzzle, a puzzle we may have never encountered or imagined.

This is the open source model. Open source facilitates solution sharing. It provides a way for every consumer of a solution to become the producer of a new solution.

Open source preserves the integrity of relationships between people and technology. It provides a way for us to act consistently in the face of conflicting goals. When we deliver solutions that can be extended by other people, we give them the same power over their tools as we have over ours.

We share solutions to affirm our integrity. We share them because it’s E.A.S.I.I.

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on open source and innovation

In 1998, Netscape released the source code for its browser. Jaws dropped. In one news cycle, open source software was introduced to audiences around the world. The release preserved the openness of the world wide web and heralded an era of innovation that has redefined how we work.

Netscape credited The Cathedral and The Bazaar in justifying it’s decision to give away the crown jewels of the company. Eric Raymond’s influential paper contrasts two development models:  the centrally controlled and regulated growth of cathedrals and the loosely coordinated and organic growth of bazaars.

At the time Netscape made its decision, Linux was already demonstrating the strength and viability of the bazaar. People were taking notice, and not just software geeks.

The innovation of open source is a revolution in process. It empowers individuals to affect their lives and the world around them.

Wikipedia is the most prominent example of this process revolution. Wikipedia redefined how the world organizes knowledge by empowering the bazaar to build on individual contributions.

Accomplishing this feat required innovative thinking and innovative software.   A ground breaking knowledge repository required a tool where contributors can work freely and with confidence their effort cannot be usurped. Mediawiki, the engine that drives Wikipedia, is as open to the world as the encyclopedia it supports.

As Wikipedia grows, so Mediawiki grows. This is the cycle of innovation.  Innovative creation of knowledge drives innovative software, which drives further innovations in capturing knowledge.

Embracing this cycle is the key to living innovatively. Choosing against it, marginalizes the impact of your effort.

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service, support and freedom

A common reaction that newcomers to open source software have upon hearing that the software is available at no cost is, “If they give it away for free how can they make any money?

It’s a natural reaction, considering the software market culture that has evolved since the 1980′s, but it misses the core motive for open source: freedom.

Open source software is designed to grant freedom of choice to the communities that use, develop and support the software.   A key result of this freedom is the creation of an open market for the exchange of services related to the software.

Examples of services abound. They include installation support, packaging, custom enhancements, documentation, training, and data preservation. And there lies the answer to the original question: the open source economy is driven by service.

Billion dollar companies have been built on the service they provide to users of freely-available open source software. Organizations who build their future on a foundation of open source preserve self determination because no central authority can monopolize control over the source code.

The open source market remains free and welcomes any entrant working to improve the lives of others through their service.

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community engagement

Just finished attending my first Crowbar design meeting.  I listened in during the call and then introduced myself and our deploy at UAB at the end of the call.  I also expressed our interest in the BIOS/RAID changes for full disk use.

The short discussion clarified a few points.  Most significantly, the focus of the Crowbar 1.x is bare metal provisioning.  It is only meant to get the fabric set up.  Any post provisioning management needs to leverage the Chef backend. The Crowbar 2.x dev work is adding management features at the crowbar layer.

This means we can pretty much focus our efforts on Chef with respect to modifying our existing config.  Also, Grizzly will be supported in Crowbar 1.6 but given the 1.x focus, it likely means we are looking at a bare-metal reinstall to get Grizzly (not unexpected but much clearer).

I raised our interest in the BIOS/RAID improvements in the context of the forthcoming open-sourcing of Dell’s barclamps for BIOS/RAID as listed on their Trello boardRob was glad to have this issue raised and felt the timing was very good since the oss release should be complete within two weeks.  He’ll put the BIOS/RAID barclamp on the agenda for the next design call in two weeks.

All in all, a fruitful community engagement.

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open processes invite accountability

You may be familiar with the popular adage open source software is more secure than closed source software.

The statement is less of an absolute in today’s marketplace than it was ten years ago, in the time before a prominent proprietary vendor was forced into a much more aggressive, and subsequently open, security posture due to the impact of several high profile exploits on their desktop software. This vendor was forced into an open dialog about the shortcomings of their platform and as a result became more accountable for the quality of the products they released into the market place.

This change was good for the software industry at large, raising awareness about the quality of software and it’s impact on security. It has led to higher quality software and processes from closed source as well as open source development teams.

Open processes invite accountability because they allow each person that depends on the upstream process to retain accountability for the successful outcome of their own efforts.

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excellence is earned

It is an attribution that others ascribe to you.

Open source software is familiar to most people and almost everyone benefits from it daily. The impact of the freedom to create and re-create has spread far from it’s computer code origins to re-engineer industries and influence our dialogues on rights in the digital age.

Open source runs the Internet and is at the heart of leading Internet companies today.  Open source software is frequently considered to be the best and most reliable software in the world.

The reason for the attribution of excellence is largely due to the process by which it is developed.

Open source supports open organization which enables people to work with mutual trust, knowing their investment is protected by full ownership of the outcome.

In our effort to build the Research Computing System we try to learn from and emulate the best examples of organization and process from the open source landscape.  We are working to build a community that is genuinely invested in a platform that we build together.

We choose to engage openly to earn trust, learn from others, and demonstrate our commitment to excellence.

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UAB has a Cloud!

In April, UAB IT hosted a team from Dell and Inktank to implement a cloud computing solution on the latest generation of hardware in our Research Computing System.  This solution combines two prominent open source cloud tools, OpenStack and Ceph, into a automated deploy and management fabric via Crowbar, a fabric designed to support the continuous integration philosophies of DevOps.

The new platform brings massively scalable storage and a very flexible application framework to the table for solving some of the most challenging problems researchers face today:

  • what to do with all the data generated by the latest generation of scientific instruments
  • how to analyze data with applications that have complex, interwoven, and often conflicting requirements

It also helps IT explore a new solutions strategy, a way of building out our computing infrastructure so we can keep moving forward at a steady, predictable pace while giving the user a set of tools to move forward at whatever pace their research demands. This platform is designed to put the user in control.

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promote abundance

Google says promote means to further the progress of, to support, to actively encourage, or to publicize our aims. Promote is a positive word. The ideas we bring into the world create the patterns that define our reality.

Promoting discovery is the aim of a research university.  Today’s most challenging research questions demand that we set aside dated assumptions about limited computing capacity and instead focus our energy toward building models that scale with the growth of our data. If we promote a culture of scarcity in the face of these problems, we will generate the inefficiencies of fear, uncertainty and doubt that hamper imagination[1].

Computers have freed us from constraint. They have allowed us to explore many dimensions and find the best solutions to the problems that confront us. They have given us the power to realize our imaginations.

Cloud computing promotes a culture of abundance. We should celebrate its power to transform how we approach our problems and work to share this freedom with others.  We should promote a culture of abundance and define a world where we create fearlessly, act with certainty, and live with confidence.

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protect is not a synonym for secret

When we protect something, we act to secure it from loss.  Our most valued resources are not hidden. They are the ones we can all see.  The ones we know we share a stake in protecting.

In the domain of research, our most valued resource is confidence in the meaning, disposition, and provenance of the information that lies at the heart of our discoveries.

Our challenge is to build trust in our ability to protect confidence in information.

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