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Project Strategy

From our experiences working and organising as Autonomic, the tech co-op who initiated Co-op Cloud, we know that the progressive tech movement lack reliable and cost-effective technical means for providing a sustainable alternative to Big Tech© services which are marketed as "cloud computing".

Technological Saviors?

The urgency for providing an alternative comes out of the understanding that the concentration of our digital lives within the private sphere of corporate providers (e.g. GAFAM) represents a loss of freedom due to the threat to our privacy and self-determination through surveillance and monopolisation.

As a movement, we cannot compete with corporate providers in terms of cost and scale. Their network effects and available capital means that no one project, product or organisation can create the required shift to a more widespread public interest technology.

Technology alone will not save us

Simply deploying libre software is not enough.

Our strategy is to mutualise our resources to facilitate this shift. Co-op Cloud is an attempt to create a new shared resource - an open and democratically managed, open standards based, copyleft licensed, libre software infrastructure project.

From this base, we can focus on the urgent and necessary social organising work that goes beyond the technical question.

The Moving Parts

Co-op Cloud is made up of a few simple, composable pieces. The system does not rely on any one specific implementation: each part may be replaced and/or extended as needed. We want to build a resilient and long-term sustainable project and that means allowing for different implementations, open formats and a diverse project organisation. Here are the main technical concepts listed below,

graph LR
  A[Libre Software\n Apps] --> B{Recipe Packaging};
  B --> C[CLI Tool];
  C --> D[Container\n Orchestrator];

Once you grok this, you grok the moving parts of the entire project. You can then move on to deploying your first app.

Libre Software Apps

Libre software apps are tools- they take the shape of websites, mobile apps, and software clients that you may already use in your daily life, for example...

  • Nextcloud
  • Jitsi
  • Mediawiki

...and many more. These apps are also often referred to as open-Source or Free-Software. These are tools that are created by volunteer communities who use free software licenses in order to build up the public software commons and offer more digital alternatives to proprietary systems.

The communities who develop these softwares also publish them using containers. For example, here is the Nextcloud account which allows end-users to quickly deploy a new Nextcloud instance.

There is a growing consensus in the free software community that containers are a useful and time saving format for distribution.

Why did you choose to use containers?

Learn more in the FAQ section.

Recipe Packaging Format

However, just having a container of an app is often not enough. The work required to deploy that app in a "production ready" setup is still too time intensive and often involves a duplication of effort.

Each service provider needs to deal with the same problems: stable versioning, backup plan, secret management, upgrade plan, monitoring and the list goes on.

Individual free software projects can't take on all this responsibility. They provide the containers as is, in a secure and ready-to-go manner but it is up to service providers to worry about how the app is deployed.

Therefore, Co-op Cloud proposes a packaging format, which we refer to as a recipe, that describes the entire production state of the app in a single place. This format uses the existing standards based compose specification.

This is a file format which is most commonly used by the Docker compose tool but Co-op Cloud does not require the use of Docker compose itself. Furthermore, as described below, we also don't rely on the actual Docker CLI itself either. We do however use a lot of the underlying libraries.

Why did you choose to use the compose specificiation?

Learn more in the FAQ section.

Each recipe that Co-op cloud provides is described using the compose specification and makes use of the upstream project published container when possible (sometimes they don't publish one!).

This is the core of our approach to working with the ecosystem of free software communities. We want to maximise the chances of sharing work, knowledge and build solidarity through concrete co-operation.

Container Orchestrator

Once we have our app packaged as a recipe, we need a deployment environment (e.g. a server & something to keep the containers running). Production deployments are typically expected to support a number of features which give hosters and end-users guarantees for stability.

The Co-op cloud makes use of Docker swarm as a deployment environment. It offers an approriate feature set which allows us to support zero-down time upgrades, seamless app rollbacks, automatic deploy failure handling, scaling, hybrid cloud setups and maintain a decentralised design.

Why did you choose to use Docker Swarm?

Learn more in the FAQ section.

Command-line tool

Finally, we need a tool to read the recipe package format and actually deploy the app. For this, we have developed and published the abra command-line tool.

abra aims at providing a simple command-line interface for managing your own Co-op Cloud. You can bootstrap machines with the required tools, create new apps and deploy them. abra is written in Go and uses a lot of the libraries that the docker and docker-compose CLIs use but does not rely on those interfaces directly.

abra is our flagship command-line client but it does not need to be the only client. abra was designed in such a way that it complements a workflow which can still be done completely manually. If Co-op Cloud goes away tomorrow, our configuration commons would still be useful and usable.