Open Source Vs. Open Enough

There's a big drive in networking towards open source with OpenDaylight and other initiatives. But enterprises aiming for open networking must make a decision: Either settle for "open enough" options from vendors that may not be truly open source but offer the interoperability and support they need, or commit to the ideals and development of true open source technology.

While IT buyers may design strategies based on open source technologies, many typically end up opening their checkbooks to a vendor that provides a solution that's “open enough.” What “open” really means is open APIs (hopefully an open standard API, and not a vendor-specific open API) and some level of interoperability in order to create solutions. The openness should allow an organization to integrate a technology into an existing environment and then easily add new capabilities to that environment.

Do these buyers really care if the technology is open source? Or do they just care that it works, is supported, and is open enough to fit into their existing world (and maybe their future world) and drive new levels of productivity for the business?

So what does this mean for the networking world? Open Daylight (run by the Linux foundation) enables organizations to download an “open source networking platform” to run their networks. This is the Hydrogen release, which comes in a basic, virtualization and service provider editions. I'm sure there have been a lot of downloads to test the software and to play with it in an IT sandbox, but I have not heard of anyone using it in production (but would be happy to talk to anyone who is).

For now, I expect most organizations will still purchase products from incumbent vendors or even innovative startups. There is a lot of brain power working on the Open Daylight project, but it's still way too early to tell if it will become "Linux for networking."

It appears that many of the network and technology vendors participating in ODL want to leverage the open source code to deliver a hardened, and perhaps even differentiated, version for their customers. The question becomes: Is that “open” enough for those organizations that have made it a long-term strategy to leverage open source software and industry-standard hardware for their network?

Innovative and disruptive startups with open source initiatives like Big Switch(Floodlight, Indigo), Cumulus (Linux OS), Pluribus Networks(Linux, Illumos and BSD communities), and Vello Systems(Open Source Optical Forum) want to promote open source ideals and benefits to help accelerate new technology adoption in a fully supported manner.

Simultaneously, networking players like Arista, Brocade, Cisco, Dell, Extreme, HP, IBM, Juniper, and Plexxi have either joined an open source community like ODL or developed their own version of an open solution, either by developing new industry standards (Cisco OpFlex) or by partnering with a startup (Dell with Big Switch and Cumulus). All of this activity makes for great discussion, but where does it leave companies that have to make a decision today?

Organizations with long-term strategies to deploy open source solutions to build out cost-effective networks, should closely follow the developments of ODL and those companies participating in the project. Any networking decisions today should be balanced with a clear understanding of a vendor’s roadmap and commitment to open source, or at least openness. This should also be aligned with the breadth and depth of solutions, either developed internally or via a robust ecosystem of partners that can take advantage of open APIs.

The momentum for open source networking solutions requires customers that will do more than just pay lip service to open source and begin to more aggressively assert these requirement with vendors and open source projects as well as continue to test and deploy open source solutions.

That's easier said than done however, when your job is on the line, and your company’s ability to produce a product hangs in the balance. So the question remains: Will you select open source or open your checkbook to buy a fully supported solution that is open enough?