Open Mic Spotlight: Michael Still

This post is part of the OpenStack Open Mic series to spotlight the people who have helped make OpenStack successful as we celebrate the third birthday of the project. Each day in July, a new contributor will step up to the mic and answer five questions about OpenStack, cloud, careers and what they do for fun.  

Michael Still is a Nova and Oslo core reviewer at Rackspace, where he works on the Open Source OpenStack project as part of the Private Cloud team. He spends most of his time hacking on the libvirt virtualization layer in nova. Before joining Rackspace in 2012, Michael spent six years as a Site Reliability Engineer at Google and one year as an Operations Engineer at Canonical. In both roles, he was responsible for maintaining and improving web systems with millions of users. He was also the director for linux.conf.au 2013, the largest Open Source conference in Australia. His twitter handle is @mikal

1. What do you do when you’re not obsessing over and working with OpenStack?

I was the Director for linux.conf.au 2013, Australia’s largest Open Source conference. The event took about two years to organize, and had around 800 delegates which is the biggest its been in a few years. I have three kids, two dogs, a cat and five chickens — they all keep me out of mischief. I also read a lot of science fiction.

2. What was your first commit or contribution and why did you make it?

Canonical has a number of OpenStack clusters — both for testing releases and for various production systems. I was on call for these clusters over Christmas 2011 and was paged for disk being low for one of our compute nodes. It turns out that if you use the libvirt hypervisor with nova there is a local on-disk cache of images that have been fetched from glance to boot instances. Back then in Diablo there was no clean up for that cache, so eventually it fills the disk. You also can’t just delete old looking images to cleanup — they might still be in use for copy on write support for long lived instances.

Nova was a perfect storm for me — it was Christmas and I had spare time; it was in Python, a language I was familiar with; and it was solving operations problems that I had been dealing with for years in other environments.

So, I sat down and wrote a fix. My initial code was laughably wrong, but Vishy was super helpful and pointed me towards a blueprint HP had written which documented a better fix, so I implemented that. Ever since I have been hacking on nova with a focus on operational supportability.

3. What other OpenStack developers deserve a shout out for the work they’re doing in the community? Who are our unsung heroes? Your own?

Kevin L. Mitchell does an amazing job with nova code reviews. Joe Gordon does great work with “hacking” — our automated code quality checking tool. Russell Bryant is an excellent PTL and a pleasure to work with, as was Vishvananda Ishaya before him. Finally, Tristan Goode has worked tirelessly promoting OpenStack in the Asia Pacific and deserves kudos for his hard work on the board.

4. How would you suggest to someone that they should pick OpenStack for deployment? What is the most compelling argument for OpenStack in your mind?

The most important feature of Open Stack is its openness — the community and the code. There’s a huge number of people out there happy to help you get your deployment working, either in the form of professional services or just as a friend on a mailing list. The openness of the code means that you can also move between distributions and hosting partners as required, and that keeps everyone honest. Don’t get locked into a single vendor solution.

5. If you could start your career over again, where would you want to begin? Advice for someone just getting started?

Engineering is about building on the shoulders of others. With Software Engineering the best way to do that is to work on Open Source — collaborative development of software is massively more efficient than other models.

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