A Visit to the Oregon State University Open Source Lab

I'm on vacation in the Pacific Northwest -- a vacation that has Parrot droppings all over it. The high point will be the Saturday, October 16 Pacific Northwest Parrot Developers Gathering I previously blogged about. You are welcome to drop in at Lucky Labrador Brewing, 915 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland OR. If you are already active to one degree or another in the Parrot project, we encourage you to arrive at 11:00 am PT. If you are not already familiar with the Parrot project, come by at 1:00 pm PT. Either way, we'll be going strong till 5:00 pm.

But that's later in this Oregon Odyssey. Having spent the night in Eugene, Oregon (home of the Bier Stein), I realized that I was less than an hour away from Oregon State University in Corvallis, home to the OSU Open Source Lab where the Parrot project's infrastructure is hosted. I emailed OSL to see if I could drop by and pay a courtesy call.

In less than an hour, I heard back from Jeff Sheltren, Operations Manager of the Lab, who said, "Come on by!" When I arrived I was given a tour of the data center which houses not only Parrot, but over fifty other open source projects as well, most notably the Apache Software Foundation and the Linux Foundation. I met other OSUOSL staff as well, including lead software engineer Peter Krenesky, infrastructure architect Lance Albertson (known as the guy who has resolved many bug tickets for Parrot) and sysadmin Mike Cooper. Jeff also introduced me to Curt Pederson, OSU's Vice Provost for Information Services (CIO).

I learned a number of interesting things during this meeting. First, the Open Source Lab is relatively young -- only about seven years old. Second, it grew out of what we might call the 'business' side of Oregon State University rather than the academic side: it grew out of network operations rather than, say, the Computer Science or Electrical Engineering departments. Third, it is not funded by the state of Oregon per se but is expected to pay its way by means of grants and fees earned by provision of services to other public sector entitites. For instance, the Lab supplies infrastructure and other services to the Oregon Virtual School District.

Notwithstanding the less-than-ideal funding situation, the Open Source Lab enjoys strong support from Oregon State's top administrators. OSU's president, Ed Ray, has said:

Our commitment to the development and application of Open Source is consistent with our drive to be the land grant university of the 21st century. Through open source activities we are helping under-served populations around the world and creating new industries and new products at home.

Not from the U.S.? Or from the U.S., but forgot the American history you learned in high school? Time for a history lesson. Follow that link to find out what a land grant university is, then discuss what "a land grant university of the 21st century" might mean. For extra credit, explain why support for open source development would be consistent with the mission of a land grant university of the 21st century.