Should You Use Open Source?

Posted on April 28, 2015 -  By Rob Sherwood, CTO @ Big Switch Networks, 

Open. It’s one of the most overused words in networking these days. And sometimes it’s used properly, other times less so. But buzzworthiness aside, the many (correct) forms of open have much to offer network operators.

Take software for example. The software part of SDN has remained an unmet need in the industry – SDN’s foundations have been set, more and more equipment is available, and we’re just waiting for a lot of the individual pieces to come together. This is where open comes into play. Through open source, network operators have access to a library of collaboration-driven, best-of-breed software components that can help ease their transition to SDN. There are two caveats: open source makes sense for components that are common building blocks not requiring vendor differentiation, and operators still want products to be well integrated, serviced, and supported, regardless of where the code originated.

Not sure if open source is right for your company? Below are ONF’s top three reasons for encouraging the use of open source software:

  1. Accelerated Adoption

Consider a major component that is necessary but not where vendor differentiation is required, as with computer or network operating systems. For vendors, an open source project to develop such a component gets many companies working in parallel, each doing its small part but all taking advantage of the collective effort around which to build their products. This not only speeds adoption but also allows many more vendors to enter the ecosystem with their specialty. For operators, the vendor products built around open source appear on the market sooner, and the availability of these open source components to the operators themselves enables them to deploy, at least experimentally, the new technology without worrying about either large financial investments or getting locked into vendor-unique solutions. Both vendors and operators can focus more of their attention on customization for unique differentiation.

  1. Standardization and Interoperability

ONF has been a proponent of market-driven de facto standards from its inception, and open source software is a key route to their development. Rather than relying on a standards body to develop and dictate standards – potentially polarizing and always time-consuming – the market itself is able to determine the best software standard through collaborative efforts (like OpenSourceSDN.org) and testing – essentially the theoretical “marketplace of ideas” in action. Through open source software, the market is able to determine, develop, and further build upon software, standardized and driven by actual industry needs. And through market-driven de facto standards, interoperability emerges by virtue of the fact that everyone has access to the same code to build into products. That may be oversimplifying, but I think you get the idea. When network operators determine the best standards for the software helping to drive the adoption of open SDN, the potential for interoperable vendor solutions increases. The industry is on the same page, the playing field is leveled, and the power of choice is put back into the hands of network operators.

  1. Continuous Improvement for Better Quality

Because anyone can improve an open source project at any time, these projects improve rapidly and are continuously being optimized. One key example of this is in network security. Every software project has security bugs. But with so many eyes on open source projects, these bugs are both exposed early and fixed early, often much faster than with closed, proprietary software. There is ample evidence to suggest that for major, popular projects, open source software is generally of higher quality than proprietary software.

Open may be a popular word among those in the networking industry – it’s in our name, after all – but it’s all about making things easier and giving network operators more control, over both their networks and their purchasing decisions. Buzzword or not, in the case of open source software, we think that this potentially overused word is actually just plain useful.

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