As the largest open source company in the world, Red Hat is all-in on open source. This case study describes some of the lessons learned over two decades of working in the open source community.
Open Source and Standards Team: How Red Hat Measures Open Source Success
Red Hat is, by its very nature, a deviation from the norm in this series of profiles. It is not a company with an open source program, but rather an open source company with an open source and standards office and an engineering team dedicated to curating communities and tending upstream contributions. In essence, Red Hat is a living, breathing testament to the success of open source. However, it still benefited from some organization and goal-setting in its community efforts.
“The open source and standards office , or what some would refer to as an open source program office, was established six years ago to create a consistent way to support communities and open source technologies from companies we acquired from time to time. We created a centralized organization of expertise to support the rest of the company in achieving their goals through open source,” explained Deborah Bryant, senior director, open source and standards, in the office of the CTO at Red Hat.
However, there wasn’t any need to advocate open source or push for its adoption internally. Red Hat hired open source expertise rather than growing it internally, so everyone on board was already firmly in the open source camp.
“Most open source program offices encourage engineers to contribute to open source, or to educate people on what open source is, or to assist in choosing an open source license. These are things that are a done deal at Red Hat,” says Bryant. “Rather than just seeing how we can use open source to improve our business, or be more flexible in operational efficiencies, or bringing more money to the bottom line, we are at the level of maturity where open source is our actual business practice and model.”
Therefore, the focus is on reaching specific goals rather than on transitioning to open source.
"For us, open source is an important part of our business model, and our business goals are to make sure that those communities that we rely upon are healthy and thriving, said Bryant.
In Red Hat’s open source toolbox
Having goals is one thing, achieving them is quite another. Several tools can be used to measure progress and results. Red Hat uses a range of tools to make sure it is hitting the mark, and communications-based tools top the Red Hat list of must-haves.
“Collaboration tools are a very big deal for us, because we have a high degree of collaboration across engineering and product and business lines. I know I'm probably understating that, but collaboration across Red Hat is huge,” Bryant said.
The company also uses the kinds of open source project, program and community tools you would expect, as well as wikis and web Kanban boards for organizing tasks.
“A lot of these are developed organically, independently through the communities that we curate. We use Kanban boards to track progress. We measure using metrics that are established community by community and in terms of what Red Hat’s hoping to achieve or contribute. We use both publicly published metrics and internal metrics for custom boards,” says Bryant.
The company also started using OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results. The framework is used to define and track business objectives and outcomes. Red Hat plans to use OKRs across projects to connect the business side of Red Hat with the work of product managers and engineering to better support long term objectives.
Bryant says that “probably the most critical tool we use is IRC.” The acronym stands for Internet Relay Chat and it’s a system used for real-time communications between people anywhere on the planet.
“Most of us are working virtually in about five or six or different time zones. IRC is our virtual building, our team is there and collaborating on a conventional level,” she said. “We use a tool called Telegram to do non-sensitive logistics and coordination when are traveling at big events.”
At Red Hat, success is defined differently for each open source project.
“When you talk about measuring upstream contributions and such, we actually go through a formal process on an annual basis, and then we refresh it several times a year to define what the success criteria are with the folks here at Red Hat who have the biggest stake in the project,” says Bryant.
“But in other cases, such as Fedora, where we have a lot of red hat contributors, we've started to measure the number of upstream contributions from other organizations, and not just from our own. For us, healthy ecosystems are a key goal, so we measure our successes partly by measuring how many other contributors there are.”
Dave Neary, a senior principal software engineer working on SDN and NFV in the open source and standards office, added another example in Open Daylight.
“There is already an ecosystem of companies that contribute to Open Daylight, and there is a developer team inside Red Hat. Our goal could be to increase the adoption of Open Daylight as an FCN backend for OpenStack, for example. Or, it could be to increase the awareness of Open Daylight as an end-to-end solution. Then you would need to define and raise awareness and measure it,” he said.
“But the goals are going to be different from one project to another, where one project cares much more about developing the user community and other projects may care much more about developing a vendor ecosystem.”
We would like to thank Dave Neary (senior principal software engineer working on SDN and NFV in the open source and standards office and CTO’s office) and Deb Bryant (senior director, open source and standards, in the office of the CTO at Red Hat) for contributing content to this article, along with Pam Baker who performed the interviews.
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