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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The story of OpenDS and the departing Neil Wilson

Some of you may know about Sun's Open Source Java Based Directory Server called as "OpenDS"

To quote from their web page:
OpenDS is an open source community project building a free and comprehensive next generation directory service. OpenDS is designed to address large deployments, to provide high performance, to be highly extensible, and to be easy to deploy, manage and monitor.

Why was I interested in OpenDS?
The reason I was interested in OpenDS was that at JBoss, we needed an all java based LDAP server for automated testing. The alternative to OpenDS was and is ApacheDS. At the time of evaluation, ApacheDS had larger footprint with reference to number of third party dependencies. Hence we had chosen Sun's OpenDS for some basic ldap based automated testing. No, our test infrastructure is not build on ldap, if that is what you were thinking. We were using OpenDS as a small footprint ldap server to test our ldap integration for JBoss Application Server.

Why is this Blog Entry talking about OpenDS?
The reason I had to write this was the shocker sent by OpenDS founder, chief architect and everything - Neil Wilson. Here is his blog entry.
An Open Letter to the OpenDS Community and to Sun Microsystems

The letter is basically a bridge burning rant from the departing Neil. This signifies the future death of the OpenDS project. Even though Sun may have resources allocated to this project, the brain/the soul of this project was in the initial founders and they are let go. I do not know what exactly transpired between Neil's superiors and Neil&co, but it is certainly a loss for open source Java software world.

I have the utmost respect for Neil and I can say OpenDS was a good DS in the making. It still had a long way to go to match the other well trenched native LDAP servers.
Neil had single handedly created SLAMD. Slamd is a distributed load testing engine/framework sitting on top of a LDAPv3 compliant server. It was slick when I played with it 4-5 years ago.

Neil seems to be a gentleman. I came to this conclusion after emails shared over years on slamd and openDS on mailing lists, as well as the congratulatory blog post at the news of ApacheDS attaining LDAPv3 certification. Here is the blog entry.

Are we totally screwed with the potential demise of OpenDS?
Not really. We still have OpenLDAP and Red Hat Directory Server (not Java based though). Frankly, we can live without an all Java based Directory server. When such a need arises, we can choose Apache DS. In fact Apache DS is feature rich in comparison to OpenDS. :)


Competition between ApacheDS and OpenDS was essential to a healthy Java based Directory Server area. But in the end, ApacheDS prevails.

Both Alex Karusulu (Apache DS) and Neil Wilson (formerly OpenDS) are smart, energetic and passionate-about-ldap folks. So competition between these two projects was good for the ecosystem.

What will Neil do going forward?
I cannot speculate here or do some wishful thinking. I do not know him PERSONALLY.

It takes a long long long time to really build a directory server that is usable in production. Plus the ldap servers are a commodity now. So I would not predict that Neil would build another DS. I certainly hope that he remains active in the open source world so that folks can use the good practical skills that he has. Additionally, his Directory Server skills will be an asset in the consulting world (probably he will do that). :)

I am sure Neil will make it big in the Identity Management/Ldap market.
Good Luck to Neil in his future endeavors.

The new community leader of OpenDS has provided the perspective behind.
Sun is committed to a transparent, participatory Open Source OpenDS
community. We will continue our investement in OpenDS.

We very much appreciate the contributions from all current and former
Sun employees to the OpenDS Community. The OpenDS community remains
open to anybody that wants to contribute to it.

Some clarifications, in light of recent comments:

* The origin of OpenDS was a proprietary project at Sun.
Sun founded the OpenDS community in 2006 to host the evolution
of the project under an Open Source license.

* We recently discovered that the Governance document for OpenDS had
changed ([1]).


* Since the change had not been discussed with the broader community nor
with Sun, we wanted to have the change reverted. We asked the Sun
employees involved in the original change to back it out. They
refused and then resigned from the community, requiring the new
project owners to make the change.

* We did not ask anyone to resign from the OpenDS community and we
welcome and encourage community participation.

The OpenDS project team is fully committed to the Open Source
principles as our actions will show.

Ludovic Poitou, OpenDS Community Leader

Andy Oliver responds as:
This response is woefully insufficient. It also doesn't contradict what
Neil said exactly. You're not running this as an open source project.
So you welcome free labor but aren't ponying up the open source
development part.

Show some actions that indicates said commitment. Your (Sun) actions
have shown a lack of it and this email is nothing but "spin" and damage

You didn't asked them to just gave them no other choice.
Who cares about the semantic differences?

OpenDS is presently open source in license only. At present only a
community fork could correct this as you're only showing a commitment
to talking about how open sourcey you are without actually being so.


legolas wood says
Hello Neil,
I am sorry to hear that the project is going to such a way like this. An
open source project should be open in nature and somehow closed for
destructive changes. It should not be controlled by a company because
the company is providing the main artifacts.

You are leaving the project and this is not a good news for community
including me. I have solved dozen of my problems by using your reply in
the mailing list and it is not something that I forget. I should thank
you again both for all replys you have provided in the forum whether for
my questions or other people's questions.
I think community members should asks current board members to post an
official reply to this letter.

Thank you for posting the truth. I wish you a good future and a good job.
have good time.

Eduardo Pelegri-Llopartsays:
I do agree that Neil was extremely responsive and that he will be missed. But I think it is fair to give a chance to the current team to prove themselves.


Trey Drake, the former OpenDS Community leader has given his take here:


I agree with legolas. Neil was the face of OpenDS. He would answer user
queries and many times he would personally implement some of the feature
requests that we put in. This type of commitment will lack in the future. Eduardo says we need to give a chance to the current team (and we will. :) )

Additional Links from the media:
1) Sun bullied, used threats to gain control of open source project, former owner says
2) Does OpenDS need a fork
3) OpenDS Users Mailing List (All the drama is here for the month of November 2007)

Give me something to see before I go?

Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz raving about the growing OpenDS community (In a picture of course). See Here. The picture is from Ludo's blog.

I am getting the feeling something fell through the cracks here, in this project. Company lay-offs is a business decision.

Disclaimer: The replies and additional updates including media links are provided to give overall
perspective to the story and the responses from folks. I am not passing any judgement on anybody here. I am just disappointed that there was so much drama in a potential successful project in the Open Source World.
"No More Updates to this blog entry. Please check the OpenDS users mailing list for November 2007 linked above for information"

UPDATE: The dust has settled on this matter. OpenDS development has continued. So back to business now. Neil Wilson has another blog post in continuation, Clarifications on the Open Letter.

1 comment:

pelegri said...

Hi Anil. I see you already commented on Ludo's post [1]. Could you also link to mine [2] for another perspective.

I do agree that Neil was extremely responsive and that he will be missed. But I think it is fair to give a chance to the current team to prove themselves.


- eduard/o