How I Contribute To OpenStack: NeCTAR’s Tom Fifield

OpenStack is the platform upon which Rackspace has built its open cloud. The community-driven cloud operating system, which Rackspace co-founded, has sparked an open source cloud revolution. Enabling the community of hundreds of developers to contribute code and leverage the OpenStack cloud however they want has created a shift in how applications are developed. This blog series collects insight straight from key developers on the front lines about how they became involved in OpenStack and the open cloud, and what contributions they’ve made.

In this installment, NeCTAR Cloud Architect Tom Fifield discusses what drew him to OpenStack and open source, and what he’s done to contribute to the open cloud.

Tell us about yourself.
I’m the cloud architect over at NeCTAR, an Australian government project to build infrastructure for the needs of researchers. One of NeCTAR’s projects is the Research Cloud; when it’s done it’ll be 25,000 cores or so, composed of up to seven federated sites. It’s operating right now with the first installation of about 4,000 cores at the University of Melbourne, currently serving the needs of more than 1,000 researchers from around the country in a wide range of disciplines, all based on OpenStack.

Spiel out of the way, I like toying with large-scale distributed computing systems. I was fortunate enough to work in particle physics for a number of years — providing support for experiments like ATLAS at the Large Hadron Collider. I became involved in “cloud” as part of an investigation to reduce the cost of computing in that space by integrating IaaS cloud with the grid, which led to a few papers and an Amazon case study.

I’m based in Melbourne, Australia, where I have previously been a professional lifeguard, a drummer in a highland pipes and drums band and a theatre lighting designer.

Why did you become involved in OpenStack?
It all started when I got a call at the beginning of 2011 from a colleague I used to work with several years prior. He was heading up a cloud project and needed some technical advice. I agreed, and started work on a piece that compared all of the open source cloud middleware. At that time, Bexar had just been released, and a comparison based on features alone probably didn’t put OpenStack ahead of the pack. However, there were a couple of items I was asked to investigate, like the availability of development roadmaps and the state of the community, and it was here that even early on in the project OpenStack was a stand out.

This fed into a workshop where luminaries from our field and a few international experts with cloud deployment experience were flown in — all to make the decision about what software would be the basis of the infrastructure. By chance, John Shilington from Cybera (Alberta, Canada) happened to be in Melbourne at the time and we benefited enormously from his talk about their experiences moving from Eucalyptus to OpenStack.

After a wide-ranging discussion over two days, the end result was that OpenStack was selected as the middleware for the NeCTAR Research Cloud, and I was employed to take a leading role in making it all work!

Tell us about your specific contributions to an OpenStack project (i.e. what the code was and what it did).
I’m rather fond of writing, so recently I’ve been working with the documentation team. Due to the time zone difference, I tend to start my mornings by looking at new documentation-related patches in the OpenStack code review system, and try to triage any doc bugs that have cropped up overnight from Europe and the U.S.

Whenever there’s time (insert lament about overwhelming lack of time here!) during the day, I’ll pick a task and work on it. So far, I’ve worked on areas like the configuration options in OpenStack Object Storage, EC2 credentials, creating virtual machines, live migration, volumes, updating documents for the latest Ubuntu version and a bit of housekeeping (typos, broken links, syntax errors). The documentation team is really supportive and provides helpful feedback — it’s definitely a collective effort that makes it all possible.

It’s been a boon to be able to take feedback from the NeCTAR cloud technical team, and the Australian OpenStack community and make improvements to the documentation — something that I see as being critical to OpenStack’s success.

How does OpenStack change your approach to cloud development?
One of the driving factors for developing our own cloud using OpenStack instead of procuring an already existing solution is the ability to be more responsive to research needs.

Due to the open source nature of the platform, we can actually take feature requests and change things for the better for our users, in time frames that are desirable for them. That’s a really big difference compared to some of the other options.

What are some of the benefits of an open collaboration effort among so many companies sharing open source code, like OpenStack?
Simply, things like this can and do happen:

“I’d sat in on the Glance replication session at the Folsom OpenStack Design Summit. The NeCTAR use case at the bottom is exactly what I wanted, so it’s reassuring that other people wanted something like that too. However, no one was working on this feature. So I wrote it.” –Michael Still (

There are multitudes of other organizations out there that have similar issues to the ones we face. It’s great to just head to your local OpenStack community meet-up and start a few conversations to see what people are doing. Hundreds of developers worldwide working on an open design you can influence; making open source code that you can change; and a community that’s ready to welcome your contribution … need more be said?

Thank you, Tom, for your contributions to OpenStack and the open cloud.

Are you a developer contributing to OpenStack? We’d love to hear more about what you’re doing and why. Leave a comment here or contact me at

And check out previous installments in the series “How I Contribute To OpenStack.”


  1. Tom is a huge help on the OpenStack docs. When I see a stack of neatly triaged bugs when I check email in the morning it makes my day. 🙂 His work on configuration options helped me wrap my mind around the approaching 1000 options (yes, 1000, not a typo) for Compute and Object Storage. Love these contributions, they’re so valuable! Thanks Tom.


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