Open standards have driven the networking market since the earliest days of the Internet. While the use of open source for networking is a more recent phenomenon, it is no less important. A major industry transition to open source for software-defined networking (SDN) is under way, and users and vendors stand to benefit. Some expectations, however, may need to change.
While the original idea behind SDN — separating the control from the data plane in network switches — has turned out to be just one of many architectural approaches that have emerged, it did catalyze massive interest in software and open source within the networking world. Things like APIs and DevOps tools became relevant to network engineers, and open source movements emerged to fulfill the need for increased automation and flexibility as organizations moved deeper into the cloud.
All of the software Negrut’s team develops will eventually be made publicly available through a website. “We believe making it all open source is the best way to ensure this transfer of technology from us to industry, where people can take advantage of the techniques and the software that we develop as part of this project, so as to foster innovation here or elsewhere in industry,” Negrut says.
As a result, analysts and reporters are constantly asking me what I think regarding their chance of success. Companies are also often asking me my thoughts on whether they should open-source a technology and whether to do it as a separate project or within the sphere of an existing open-source project. Overall, this trend toward open source is very encouraging. Unlike closed-source/proprietary code, open-source licenses allow one to look at the code – to understand the inner workings and spot problems but also to be inspired. The real power of open source is the ability for people to build on top of the original source code.
Last month I wrote about an important development for companies outside the world of computing: collaborating on non-competitive code specific to their sector. That change in business practices is still in the early stages, and will probably take some years to move into the mainstream. Far further along is the transformation of many manufacturing companies into ones where open source plays a central role, not just in their IT infrastructure, but in their product line too. That's simply a consequence of the fact that more and more products are adding digital elements, and that the cheapest and best way to do that is to use open source.
The open-source Docker project is growing today with the announcement of new efforts that expand the deployment and usability options of the popular container application virtualization technology. Docker Inc., the lead commercial vendor behind the open-source Docker project, is also announcing a commercial enterprise product and partnerships to help further accelerate adoption.
We’re still suspicious of their motives and know they would destroy us tomorrow if they could — but that doesn’t worry us, because they can’t. They have too much on their plate as they fight for survival. But even if they didn’t we still wouldn’t be afraid — not of them, nor of Oracle or anyone else who’d like nothing better than to squish us under their thumbs. We’ve won. As Dwight Merriman, co-founder of DoubleClick – a closed company if ever there was one — told me recently when I asked him about open source in the enterprise, “I think it’s mainstream.” He should know; he’s on our side now.
These days the future of FOSS is pretty secure; we’re not going anywhere anytime soon. We even seem to be slowly gaining the upper hand on the patent front, with many recent court rulings taking the wind out of the trolls’ sails, if you’ll excuse the cliche.
At this point in history, arguments for using Linux, FOSS (free and open-source software) and the Internet make themselves. Yet the virtues behind those things—freedom, openness, compatibility, interoperability, substitutability—still tend to be ignored by commercial builders of new stuff.
For example, US health care, like pretty much every business category, is full of Linux and FOSS, and is to some degree connected on the Net. Yet, it remains a vast feudal system of suppliers that nearly all work to lock doctors, hospitals and labs into dependency on closed, proprietary, incompatible, non-interoperable and non-substitutable systems. I've witnessed these up close as a patient. In one case, diagnostic scans by one machine and software system couldn't be read by computers with software designed to read the output of a different company's scans. In another case, records kept by one specialty failed to inform another specialty in the same hospital. The first one gave me a case of pancreatitis, and the second one gave my mother a fatal stroke.