Rackspace opens the door wide for open-source development

Rackspace, one of OpenStack's founders, takes open source very, very seriously. How seriously? Their "Rackers" can work on open-source projects that compete with the company's own open-source programs.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Some people believe in free software, others in open-source software, but few, if any, companies takes supporting open source to the extreme that Rackspace, one of OpenStack's founders, has just taken it.  Van Lindberg, Rackspace's VP of Intellectual Property (IP), announced that Rackspace employees, Rackers, can even "contribute to a project that is directly competitive with Rackspace."


Mind you if a Racker wants to contribute to say Apache CloudStack, Rackspace would like to know why they'd do this before contributing, but even that's not expressively forbidden.

In other words to make it clear that RackSpace practices what it preaches, Rackspace employees are allowed to contribute to any open-source project even if it directly competes with initiatives officially backed by Rackspace.

Why!? Lindberg explained, "This new policy will drive business opportunities for Rackspace and build leadership and expertise in our Rackers, also forcing us to focus on the services we pride ourselves on delivering."

A company spokesperson added, "As a founder of the OpenStack platform with NASA, Rackspace has long been vocal about its commitment to the open cloud.  Now, it is giving its’ employees the same benefits it offers to hundreds of thousands of corporate customers: The green light to freely access the marketplace of ideas and build on the innovations of others."

Lindberg spelled out that the company is changing its policy so that "so that Rackers are free to contribute to and participate in any public open source project of their choice that has an established open-source license."

In the past, "our policy was that they had to check with our IP Committee/legal department prior to contributing. In evaluating the last three years, we’ve found no cases where Rackers came to us with unreasonable requests. All exercised good judgment."

Therefore, as "part of our principled effort to be open, not only in our technologies, but in our philosophies — open in all that we do. Our value as a company is in being the best business partner we can be in the industry and contributing to open source communities is a major component of that." So, "We’re removing the barrier to collaboration and sharing. They can contribute code, patches, tests, docs--you name it; we encourage it," wrote Lindberg.

In an e-mail interview, Lindberg added, "This change is really about knowing where Rackspace adds value.  We want to be known as a world-class service company. Our focus on being open creates value by aligning us with those whom we seek to serve."

Rackspace made this decision now not because theere was anything "really special about right now." But, because, "We always want to simplify processes and this was one way we could do so while simultaneously benefiting others," said Lindberg.

The only other restriction is that "Rackers are encouraged to contribute on their own time, and if they wish to contribute during work hours they must obtain approval from their manager."

Color me impressed. You can't get much more open source friendly than Rackspace has with this move. I'll be very interested in seeing how it plays out, I expect, as must Rackspace, it will work out for the benefit not only of the company but to all the open-source projects they choose to work with as well.

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