Project & Release Tracking for Xen - Part 1

Xen Sep 16, 2022

Hello there! I'm Marc, project manager at Vates since late 2020 and I'm managing and tracking both Xen Orchestra and XCP-ng projects. In this article, I wanted to talk about our latest initiative with the Xen Project (the hypervisor behind our virtualization platform): giving my time and experience to help build a project and release tracking for this great open source software!

📧 Mailing lists

When you want to take a look or track an Open Source project status, you will check the place where everything happens. Depending on the project, you might go to its Github or Gitlab repository, or any other web-based software project/repository.

However, some projects are still doing everything around emails and a mailing list. Both Linux and the Xen Project are still relying on this form of code contribution and community discussion workflow. In short, you'll send your emails with your patches or write your thoughts on a future feature that will be needed (and so on). This process is very mature and efficient… for developers used to it! But for less technical persons around the project, it's another story.

Navigating in a mailing list, between emails with patches, comments and/or various discussions is not really intuitive: you don't know where to start, since there's no hierarchy or "tags" with all the messages/items. At least, if you want to make the most of it, you'll need to configure your email client specifically for it, by creating filters and so on. Because the default output is relatively scary:

It's not very easy to track some topics between various patches and other messages.

Here at Vates, we understand very well why a mailing list is used for the Xen Project: it's fast, can be used offline, and mostly, the developers are used to it! But we wanted to improve things for people outside the existing dev team.

🎯 Target

Thanks to a very positive reception of our initiative from the Xen community, we were able to start a working group dedicated to project tracking.

In the Xen Project, a working group is like a "task force", dedicated to achieve a specific mission. The workflow is pretty simple: during the monthly community call, someone will announce a project/idea, and then, if there's enough traction and people interested, we'll decide to create a dedicated meeting on that topic.

After a few meetings, we agreed collectively what we wanted to achieve:

  • Facilitate & improve engagement and discussion between external stakeholders and the Xen community
  • Provide a simple overview of the project in terms of use case, code area, goals, workload, difficulty and status stakeholders - at the epic level, if you are familiar with Agile Methodology, similar to a Kanban board view.
  • Help the Xen community to make well-informed decisions, like avoiding similar but isolated initiatives, dispersing contributors efforts
  • Help the Xen Release Manager to track the new release advancement and see potential bottlenecks
  • All of that without any impact/overburden for the existing Xen developer and maintainer!

⚒️ Finding the right tool

Then we had two choices, as the Xen project is an Open Source project of the Linux Foundation, we could benefit from the Jira standard cloud and the Gitlab ultimate licenses for free.


After a proof of concept, it appears both tools met our needs, however we finally chose Gitlab for the following reasons:

  • We do not need all the features of Jira, who could look too big for our needs
  • We already had a Xen repository mirror on Gitlab which is easy to find and that we could use
  • Gitlab is (mostly) an Open Source solution

Finding the tool is great, but what will it look like? Stay tuned for part 2, where I will explain in detail how it works! But you'll have to wait for me to return from the next Xen summit in Cambridge.

If you are too impatient to wait, you can just have a look at the Gitlab Xen-project Group EPIC boards and new Release boards.  It's still a draft, waiting for Xen community approval.

🙏 Acknowledgements

I wanted to give a special thanks to George Dunlap (Xen Community Manager) and other members of the Xen Project Tracking Working Group, for letting me lead this initiative and contribute to the Xen project as a Project Manager!


Marc Ungeschikts

Along with Olivier Lambert

Vates Project Manager Officer and Agile manager for Xen orchestra, XCP-ng and Vates internal dev teams. I am a servant leader dedicated to the teams and a Vates enthusiast since 2020.