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Open Source Boom Not Without Challenges

Carol Wilson

SANTA CLARA -- Open Networking Summit -- The booming interest in software-defined networking and open source is driving this event, but two of its biggest backers today warned an opening keynote audience that change is needed if open networking is going to succeed commercially.

Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, which sponsors ONS, and event founder Guru Parulkar, now executive director of the Open Networking Foundation, both called for fundamental change specifically impacting investment and the need to harmonize projects to be more efficient.

Zemlin called for three major initiatives -- one to harmonize projects addressing the same topics and to collaborate between levels to avoid overlap; another to help companies address change management and learn how to operate in the open source world; and a third to harmonize open source efforts with software standards development.

"There is so much code -- and so little time," he joked. Having smart developers solve problems by writing good code will remain the heart of open source, but the proliferation of projects creates challenges for companies that are forced to choose which ones to support, and where to place their investment bets.

Sustainable ecosystems, diverse shareholders and transparency are among the key components of a worthy open source project, Zemlin said, and the Linux Foundation seeks to deliver that in the diversity of open source networking projects it sponsors. Even so, the proliferation of projects remains a challenge.

"We need to harmonize these projects up and down the stack -- if we have three or four different projects at each level -- how do we harmonize" at least to the point of using common applications programming interfaces and languages, he asked, and then promised this week's intense schedule of sessions would deliver some answers.

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Similar harmonization needs to happen between open source and standards development -- something the Linux Foundation is beginning to address in its work with groups such as the MEF and IEEE, Zemlin said. He wasn't offering any easy answers to the pervasive problem of culture change within the networking industry, other than to say the open source community needs to do its part to make it easier for traditional networking companies to understand how to use open source and where it can benefit them.

Parulkar addressed the latter issue in a more specific way, saying ONF, in its new configuration, is working to create integrations of open source technology that can be easily deployed by network operators. In addition, through open data models, information models and APIs, the ONF will "make it easy for vendors to plug innovation into this pipeline," and in the process, create products with "significantly reduced R&D and lower time to market," he said. "That is the kind of value proposition we want to bring to the vendors."

But he brought up another challenge, what he called the resource gap between what open source can deliver -- code, proofs of concept and lab trials -- and the commercialization and hardening processes needed to take products to market.

Right now, Parulkar said, "we have misaligned incentives," i.e., the companies that benefit from open source and disaggregation of software/hardware are network operators, but they lack the development resources and investment to bring product to market themselves. Vendors have those resources, but the open source/disaggregation model is "very disruptive to their existing business," he noted. Systems integrators see the opportunity in open source and disaggregation but "lack the expertise and the investment" to create solutions that scale across the industry.

Aligning investment incentives will be key to getting to production deployment, along with creation of integrated solutions and harmonized efforts within the open source community, Parulkar added, promising ONF would be addressing those challenges.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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