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Why Open Source? Why ONF?

Sep 14, 2015

Dan Pitt explains why ONF is taking a stance in supporting open source, and why you should take action now.

ONF has always been an advocate for industry collaboration, and when done properly open source software certainly falls under that umbrella. Lately, we’ve noticed an increase in companies getting involved in open source activities, especially in SDN, either through code donations or continued development. Why are they doing this? For components that do not require vendor differentiation, open source provides an efficient development path, where contributors split the cost while all receive the full benefit. For major components, it’s hard to imagine one company having resources that compare to the combined resources of all the contributors. It’s certainly the case that no company would have all the good ideas that the combined contributors bring.

But open source is not without its challenges. Contributors to collaborative efforts inevitably bring with them their own sets of priorities and end goals, which can sometimes lead to drawn-out processes and complicated community politics. Creating something in an open fashion does not necessarily result in interoperability, especially if too many alternatives are permitted to be included in a project. Open source also forces companies to think about their real differentiators, beyond the open source component.

What is its importance for ONF? Rob Sherwood recently answered that question on the ONF blog – because open source helps accelerate adoption, encourages standardization and interoperability, and enables continuous improvement for better quality. Moreover, when our specification activities drive open source instantiation, we get feedback on their correctness and practicality. And network operators (and vendors) get artifacts they can deploy and learn from immediately.

Open source has been around for a long time. Why are so many companies and organizations in the SDN industry getting involved now?

There are three reasons. First, the industry now has a much better idea of where differentiation is – and is not – required for SDN; where it is not, open source makes sense. Second, SDN product platforms have finally matured to where the industry can implement systems that combine hardware, proprietary software, and open source software in a combination that makes technical and business sense. Third, there is an excellent selection of thriving open source projects that our (and the industry’s) efforts can plug into. And those make sense for ONF, rather than our having to construct some massive new project. Jim Zemlin, CEO of the Linux Foundation, recently explained to our board all that goes into developing, testing, and releasing commercial-grade open source software, and doing a good job at that is not for the unprepared or under-resourced. Building community, which involves attracting human and financial resources for this whole pipeline of activities, is crucial to harvesting the value of open source.

ONF plays a unique and cherished role in this process. We have conceived and continue to conceive the concepts and constructs that open SDN is built on. Major open source projects are implementing our ideas. Our working hand-in-hand with these projects and instantiating our standards work in open source where possible, for contribution to one of these projects or incubation in OpenSourceSDN.org, constitute the “virtuous circle” of the complementary nature of standards and open source, which Jim Zemlin described.

As more vendors learn where they can adopt open source into their products, they find they can use more of their valuable resources to create unique value around the common, open source components. As more network operators, especially those able to contribute significant resources, begin to support open SDN and the open source software behind it, open source development and the SDN movement as a whole begin to pick up significant speed. But procurement of open source-based products by network operators changes their established practices and requires new areas of expertise. Thus we should expect a fairly long learning curve.

We in ONF view open source as one more important tool in our toolbox to advance our mission of accelerating the adoption of open SDN. We love being the thought leaders on SDN and we’re excited by being able to see our ideas become real quickly in software. I am seeing our member participants bring an increasingly diverse array of skills to our activities, from deep theory all the way to software, making ONF a place for outstanding professional growth opportunities. And the relationships we foster with the open source experts build a thriving SDN ecosystem. Virtuous, indeed.

– Dan Pitt, Executive Director