Open Source 101: Tapping into the Value of Open Source?

In last week’s blog Open Source 101: Why Bother? we highlighted why the service provider community is looking to open source to solve some of their network challenges. This week, we’ll continue that conversation by addressing the value open source brings and how to approach open source projects.

The open source model, especially as applied to the network, empowers companies to break out of the boxes that proprietary vendors have historically kept them. They can begin to create a networking paradigm that’s much more flexible and interoperable, and ultimately, more cost-effective. Open source brings:

  • Collaboration: With proprietary technologies, your solutions are the product of one vendor organization. In the open source world, solutions are developed by people from the best minds at dozens, even hundreds of companies coming together. Rather than each networking vendor building its own model behind closed doors for how a network should work, now everyone is working together on a single, common model.
  • Speed: Along those lines, large open source projects bring more people, skills, experience, and resources to bear than even the largest individual vendors, which means they can solve problems faster and bring them from lab to production on shorter timescales. Consider the OpenDaylight network controller. A code base of that size historically would have taken one vendor three to four years to implement. Developed through an open source ecosystem, with different groups attacking different pieces of the problem simultaneously, it took about 18 months.
  • Flexibility: With open source, you have more freedom to build solutions that ideally suit your needs. Typically, you’re not going to adopt the entire open source code base; you take the pieces that do what you need. And if you find a better option for one element of the solution? Unlike with proprietary technology, you can change it, on your own schedule, without having to ask a vendor to do it for you.
  • Innovation: When you start embracing open source networking in particular, you begin to accrue the benefits that come from living in software rather than hardware world. Rolling out a new service or capability is no longer a multi-year project. Once you have a mature development infrastructure in place, you can continually experiment with new ideas, tweak them, and scale up those that make sense.
  • Credibility: When an individual company develops an approach to solving a set of technical problems, it takes time for the wider industry to evaluate it and decide if they’re willing to invest in it. In an open source ecosystem, many companies have already weighed in. A jointly developed solution already has a kind of stamp of approval, and the industry at large—or at least a significant part of it—is on the same page regarding the best way to solve that problem.

It’s Time to Take the Plunge

Of course, not all open source is created equal. Literally, anyone can publish code under an open source license and allow people to download and use it. What you should be looking for, especially when it comes to open source networking, is standardized solutions. That doesn’t mean it has to be an actual standard—the big open source groups often now work well ahead of standards bodies. But when you use an open source solution backed by a broad community of contributors, you’re using code that’s been evaluated and tested by many of the smartest, most experienced people in the industry.

There are, of course, trade-offs associated with such open source approaches. Standardized solutions are rarely as performant or feature-rich as proprietary out-of-the-box. They are, after all, abstractions, intended to solve the most common set of problems for the largest number of users. They also most definitely don’t work “out of the box.” In a multivendor service provider network, for example, making open source network controllers work with that specific mix of proprietary hardware and systems can require significant development and integration. It’s an investment, however, that pays off.

Bottom line, any service provider (or any enterprise with a large, dynamic network) will eventually have to make this choice. You can keep handing over the keys to proprietary vendors and let them dictate what you do, how you do it, and how much you’ll pay for it. Or, you can start down the path towards open source and software-driven paradigms, and put the ultimate control of your environment in your own hands.

This is where Lumina Networks comes in. With our in-house expertise in southbound and northbound interfaces and leadership in open source, combined with our hardened, pure-play OpenDaylight solutions, we are a valuable partner to any company looking to take the Open Source plunge.

Learn more about how our NetDev services have supported many tier-1 OpenDaylight deployments here.