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Do Users Want Freedom from Vendors, or Freedom and Vendors?


Do you want free software or do you want supported, enterprise grade software? Many people think that’s the question. It’s not.

Like all data geeks we wanted to understand the appetite by the networking industry for open source SDN and NFV, so the OpenDaylight Project commissioned a report from Gigaom Research that was made available today. It surveyed enterprises and service providers across North America to understand network pain points and where SDN and open source could help. What struck me was that 95 percent showed a strong bias for open source, and 76 percent said they want to consume open source from a commercial vendor. Does this seem at odds? Not at all. This isn’t wanting your cake and eating too. It is fully rational to want both. The report clearly illustrates an evolution that’s happened in the software industry where people want the best of both worlds: the flexibility, freedom and neutrality of an open source solution with the advantages of support and services that a commercial vendor can provide. Of course many will want to consume at the extremes (fully proprietary or fully open) and that’s fine too. I call the emerging dominant model Open Plus, and you can read more thoughts about that here.

This report is the first time the idea comes out so clearly--a new approach to software development and consumption. You might’ve noticed this trend in the past few years. A number of high profile startups have emerged based on open source software (Cumulus, HortonWorks, Cloudera, MongoDB, Qumranet, and Docker to name a few). Giants like IBM, Microsoft, Cisco, Red Hat and HP continue to up their investments in open source. We see this happening in networking and everywhere. What’s driving this change? The report gives us some clues.

People have seen open source projects create de facto standards through common code development. They want the advantages of an open platform that that nobody controls to avoid things like vendor lock-in. If their needs or requirements change, if their solution goes end-of-life, they feel confident they can migrate elsewhere with less disruption. More specifically from the report, networking pros want open source to be:

  • Created using formal design and development practices
  • Validated by strict integration and testing procedures
  • Delivered and deployed via proven tools and techniques
  • Supported by trusted programs, processes, and people

Applying these commonly used software development practices to open source makes perfect sense. The difference from a fully proprietary solution is that all of this is done in the open--you can see what the testing process is, who is committing code, what’s on the roadmap, etc. You can even participate in shaping these things if you’re so inclined. It’s the best of both worlds for everyone--vendors, end users, developers--and the result more often than not is better quality software. Regardless of where you sit, why not take some time and explore what open source can do for your networks, your customers or your business? There is no better time to do an SDN proof-of-concept. OpenDaylight is the perfect tool for that - you can evaluate many approaches, many technologies, different hardware. What will be the tipping point for you to use, participate or invest in open source? I’d love to hear your thoughts so send me a tweet at @NeelaJacques or use the #OpenSDN hashtag.

Report: SDN, NFV, and Open Source: The Operator’s View, March 2014