Originally founded in 1998 as a provider of web hosting services, Rackspace has transitioned itself into a leader in the open cloud industry. While it firmly established its bona fides as a supporter of the open source software movement by working with NASA to co-found the OpenStack platform in 2010, it has gone one step further by allowing its own employees to work on any open source project they wish -- even those projects that directly compete with OpenStack or other Rackspace initiatives.
Rackspace has historically required employees to work with its internal legal department and intellectual property committee before they contribute to any outside projects. However, its internal reviews showed that, over a three year period, not a single employee made an unacceptable request. For that reason, it decided that opening up its internal processes was a safe decision as well as one that aligned with its principles and philosophies.
This new approach is much more than just a human resources tweak for the company. It's an expansion of Rackspace's commitment to both the open source movement and to the principles that it embodies. As explained by a Rackspace representative, the company is committed to open source and to an open cloud as being the best solution for its customers. If it works for customers, it also works for Rackspace itself. As such, the new policy represents a way to let its employees fully participate in the marketplace for new ideas and work with other people's innovations to create new ones.
Rackspace's new policy on openness is extremely broad. Workers, sometimes referred to as Rackers, are free to do just about anything for public open source projects. They can be involved in testing, writing, documenting, creating patches, or even directly creating new source code for enhancements and bug fixes. In fact, its new commitment carries only two limitations:
- Its employees are free to contribute to any project they wish on their own time but must receive approval from their managers before they contribute during company hours.
- While employees are free to work on any project -- including competing ones -- the company may want to know why the employee is contributing to a competing project, but it will not bar it.
Ultimately, this new policy helps to further align Rackspace as a supporter of openness and of collaboration within the IT industry. On a bigger scale, its impacts remain to be seen. It will likely benefit Rackspace as it becomes able to attract more developers with an orientation towards openness while also letting it play more of a role, albeit an informal one, in the development of the applications and systems that drive the IT industry. The industry will also benefit from having more skilled engineers available to work on developing open source projects.
If this is a harbinger of greater openness industry-wide, it could give the entire open source movement additional momentum as well.