with Robert van der Meulen, Global Product Strategy Lead at Leaseweb
Robert is Global Product Strategy Lead at Leaseweb. Fascinated by technology, Robert studied computer sciences, and after his studies, he delved into the then relatively young and rapidly developing internet technology. He soon understood that the internet would be at the center of almost everything we do and wanted to be part of it. Robert is passionate about using technology to improve people’s lives. He contributed to the Debian project as a developer later introduced Apache CloudStack in Leaseweb and has been active in the open source community for quite some time. During his 9 years at Leaseweb, he worked hard to make sure digital transformation, from how we communicate to how we do business, is part of the company mission. Follow @Leaseweb on Twitter.
"Many Apache projects are being built by – mostly – volunteers and motivated individuals, and the world can use, change and develop all of those. It’s important to support the people that make this possible."
How did Leaseweb’s work with Open Source begin?
There’s a long history of open source within Leaseweb. When you do large-scale hosting, open source operating systems, tools, and applications are always pretty much part of your product – and working on open source projects brings mutual benefits. This can mean running a mirror for your customers and "the outside world", fixing and reporting bugs, or helping with actual features or changes to "products" you use. As our services portfolio grew, we started using and contributing to more open source projects, especially when Cloud was becoming a bigger part of the portfolio – bringing the need for more middleware and (platform) management.
Why Apache? How is Leaseweb involved with the ASF, and for how long?
If you count the Apache HTTP Server predating the ASF, we’ve probably been using ASF software in one way or another for as long as we exist – which is incidentally pretty close to the ASF (we celebrated our 20th anniversary about 2 years ago). Our contributions and use of ASF projects grew significantly when Apache CloudStack became part of the portfolio. CloudStack being open source and managed by the ASF after cloud.com and Citrix adventures gave us a nudge to start using it more. I’d say CloudStack is a significant part of our Cloud portfolio right now – we run large deployments all over the world, often supporting critical customer applications.
Why is support for foundations such as the ASF important? How does helping the ASF help Leaseweb?
Support for foundations such as the ASF is important because those foundations are important 🙂 . Any big open source project at some point needs the infrastructure to continue to run – and it’s great if a project can rely on an organization like the ASF for that infrastructure so the focus can be on making the project great. Open source projects can grow and be more successful if they can more easily deal with governance, financials and administration, as well as tangible infrastructure and tools. Helping an organization like the ASF helps the ASF projects all over, which has an impact on the software we use as part of our products.
What sets the ASF apart from other software foundations or consortia?
The simple distinguishing factor is the size of the ASF. There’s a vast number of projects which are part of the ASF, and most of those are significant in the free software "portfolio". Many of those components and projects are used in a less visible way, being part of the hard-core infrastructure of the Internet – but without them, many tools and devices we use would not be able to function. What I like about the ASF, is that it embodies the open source spirit by valuing consensus and being an enabler for the projects that are part of the Foundation.
What does "The Apache Way" mean to Leaseweb? What makes The Apache Way special?
There’s overlap between The Apache Way and the values we try to stick to in Leaseweb.
Important ones are Merit, Open and Consensus – in part due to our backgrounds. We value facts, deeply dislike assumptions, and like to make decisions based on proper motivation and data. Growth makes people happy and gives great results, so we like people to do more of what they’re good at – and to get even better at it. This also means being open to new opinions and ideas – executing on them because they make sense, not because where they come from. I think those values are recognizable in many open source communities as well as in The Apache Way.
Do you have any guidelines for promoting innovation? There is no limit with Open Source: how do you stay focused?
Open source projects are often tools for us or part of a product offering or service – which means we’d look at what tools fit best to get to where we want to be. Innovation is more a natural part of that, as we need it to continue to offer the right services to our markets. It’s pretty much impossible to do that without constantly innovating and adding new features and products. Focus is a more difficult one; a large part of that focus is driven by our target markets and customers, so listening to that market and those customers to figure out what they want is super important. That information, along with keeping a close eye on market trends, gives us direction and focus from a product and services perspective. From a more technical angle, great engineers are always looking for ways to make their systems and services better 🙂 . Lots of input (and obviously the execution!) comes from the product teams – either by constant optimization and small changes, or by bigger business cases or ideas that can be executed.
How does Apache fit into Leaseweb’s long-term strategy/plans?
A number of our leading Cloud products are based on Apache software. We use Apache CloudStack for various private cloud and VPS offerings, and those platforms are continually growing and evolving – and we keep adding more with most of the new locations we open. Along with the CloudStack platforms, hosting environments obviously have many deployments using Apache web servers. Within our technical teams we consume lots of different Apache projects and actively contribute to a number of them (we have a dedicated CloudStack team that includes one of the Apache CloudStack PMC members). Every software solution has its limits, and obviously this goes for CloudStack too – but also we’re happy we can change or help change the things that could be better.
Money is just one way to support the ASF. How else do you contribute? What recommendations do you have for others to participate?
An important part of the ASF support is the platform we provide; it’s obvious that The Apache Software Foundation would run their infrastructure on Apache CloudStack, but I’m happy the Leaseweb team and infrastructure is delivering and maintaining that particular CloudStack setup. There’s a sense of pride; the people building the software are trusting our services to do part of that on. Next to that, it proves to me we provide a set of services and products we can be proud of and one that fits the requirements of a bunch of pretty hardcore Cloud developers.
How does it feel to be able to offer this level of support?
It feels great! It’s important to, if you have the opportunity, give something back. Many Apache projects are being built by – mostly – volunteers and motivated individuals, and the world can use, change and develop all of those. It’s important to support the people that make this possible.
Are there any other thoughts on the experience of being a large-scale donor that you would like to share? What else do we need to know?
Not much. I personally really enjoy seeing what happens with the support we provide – what projects it makes possible, what things it makes more easy or better. Tangible insight in the results is a big motivator as well as a proof point.
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Sponsors of The Apache Software Foundation such as Leaseweb enable the all-volunteer ASF to ensure its 300+ community-driven software products remain available to billions of users around the world at no cost, and to incubate the next generation of Open Source innovations. For more information sponsorship and on ways to support the ASF, visit http://apache.org/foundation/contributing.html .