Open-Source Is Poised to Shake Up Networking

Andrew Froehlich, Network Engineer & IT Consultant | 7/8/2013 | 13 comments

Andrew Froehlich
Linux and open-source software revolutionized the server industry a few decades ago, and my hopes are high that open-source operating systems can do the same for networking today.

In this new age of software-centric everything, Linux provides the stability of a proprietary system without all the added-on licensing costs that tend to pile up quickly. There are still some challenges to open-source networking equipment, but the cost savings they deliver will likely overcome all obstacles.

I recently received a network hardware/software price quote from my value-added reseller for a new project in which I'm involved. Talk about sticker shock. The funny thing is that it's not only the hardware that's ridiculously expensive; it's also all the software features and licensing fees that are tacked on the bill of materials. After reviewing each line item, I've come to the conclusion that network vendors are nickel and diming us to death.

It used to be that, when you bought a network appliance such as a switch or firewall, all the software functionality came along with it. Sure, there were some add-ons here or there, but paying extra for features was largely the exception. These days, it seems you have to pay an added licensing fee to use even the most basic features. Because the IT department has to pay for every little network feature, it creates an environment of inflexibility, especially when IT budgets are tight.

CIOs looking to meet growing enterprise demand for increased network bandwidth and speed need to circumvent situations in which the networking team is operating at odds with the rest of the IT department. Unfortunately, until now, network engineers couldn't do anything about it. There are only a handful of respected vendors, and they're all playing the same game.

Open-source could upend networking industry
Now it looks like the introduction of network software based on open-source operating systems might turn the industry on its head. This creates the possibility of running networking components on generic hardware with lots of free add-on features.

Innovations such as software-defined networking are causing network vendors to veer away from being hardware- and appliance-centric companies. They are beginning to focus much more on the software side. Hardware is being decoupled from its software and is quickly becoming a commodity. And if one simply looks at router and switch software, separate from hardware, it's easy to imagine how the OS can be replaced with an open-source OS such as Linux.

Startups such as Cumulus Networks, with its Linux Network Architecture, offer an alternative to proprietary hardware/software solutions. Cumulus sells only a networking operating system; it doesn't sell hardware. The underlying Linux OS can operate on a wide variety of generic network hardware that's considerably cheaper than what we're used to buying. It's not second-rate hardware, either. Internet giants such as Google and Microsoft have been building their own network equipment with similar hardware for years.

Because the OS uses an open-source Linux platform, it can integrate easily (and freely) with other open-source applications. This is especially important for datacenter network hardware. There are a plethora of open-source datacenter automation and management tools to leverage. This is in stark contrast with the current model of paying top dollar for any and all types of add-ons to make datacenter management a bit easier.

After reviewing that latest network hardware/software price quote, I gladly welcome the possibility of Linux and other open-source software shaking up the network industry landscape. If I could purchase hardware and software at a fraction of the usual price with the flexibility to use add-on features at little or no added cost, I'd be very interested. How about you?

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Pedro Gonzales   Open-Source Is Poised to Shake Up Networking   7/8/2013 12:47:16 PM
the more competition the better
I would be interested as well. It seems open source networking,if we can call it that, provides an interesting alternative.  As you indicated in your article it will force proprietary vendors to provide other solutions for networking, the current method doesn't seem to be working specially were many IT department have tight budgets.

mejiac   Open-Source Is Poised to Shake Up Networking   7/8/2013 4:21:42 PM
Re: the more competition the better
@Pedro Gonzales,

I think a good scenario to look at it's the smarphone/tablet industry. Android provides a solud firmware, where hardware makes need only to tweek it to their specs.

So for the IT Network market, this would be kinda the same, the open source solution would only need to be implemented in a manner that best fits the organization, thus pushing other providers to have to re-think there strategies.

What do you think?
Andrew Froehlich   Open-Source Is Poised to Shake Up Networking   7/8/2013 6:56:53 PM
Re: the more competition the better
That's a great way to look at it @mejiac. But one major question is, will the big networking players cooperate or attempt to sabotage the open-source movement?
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Zaius   Open-Source Is Poised to Shake Up Networking   7/9/2013 12:33:18 AM
Re: the more competition the better
It is also dependent on how comfortable a particular company is while buying open source and from not so famous vendors. Yes, I can argue that MSFt and Google are using it, but it might not convince my customer rely on these open sourced product. On the cost frontier, it is a lucrative option and it is just for myself, I would say, yes.
SaneIT   Open-Source Is Poised to Shake Up Networking   7/9/2013 8:07:36 AM
Open-Source networking
I've used open-source solutions many times for routing or firewall purposes in the past and I'll keep using them where appropriate but I do wonder when we'll see hardware that runs open source software for switching or gives us better options for routers, etc.  I'd love to have more generic hardware that didn't require extensive support contracts because it would be so cheap to replace that you just wouldn't bother with extended contracts.
mejiac   Open-Source Is Poised to Shake Up Networking   7/9/2013 9:09:17 AM
Re: the more competition the better

Like any marketing strategy, they'll probably want to showcase strenghs and weaknesses (mostly weaknesses) to deviate CIOs from considering open source solutions, and will probably leverage on the level of provided support and services.

What this does is mix things up and make them interesting, thus pushing corporate bullies into corners that before didn't exist, making them re-thing there business models.

Cloud solutions is an example of how things can shift.
Andrew Froehlich   Open-Source Is Poised to Shake Up Networking   7/9/2013 10:33:26 AM
Re: Open-Source networking
"I'd love to have more generic hardware that didn't require extensive support contracts"

I hope for this as well. I think it's a growing market thanks to companies like Google and Facebook since they often build their own routing gear.
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SaneIT   Open-Source Is Poised to Shake Up Networking   7/10/2013 7:38:37 AM
Re: Open-Source networking
Yes routers are easier since many times we're talking 5-8 interfaces at best for a router to handle and that can be done with off the shelf hardware for less than buying a commercially built router but try building a 196 port switch and things get a bit more expensive and much harder to pull off.  I'd like to have a big card that could do this and be driven by an open source OS and software on the back end.
SunitaT   Open-Source Is Poised to Shake Up Networking   7/29/2013 5:04:28 AM
Re : Open-Source Is Poised to Shake Up Networking
Open source software has brought competition in the network world. Competition is always good to for the advancement of technology.
singlemud   Open-Source Is Poised to Shake Up Networking   7/29/2013 12:41:58 PM
Re: Open-Source networking
that is the thing for many open source tools/project, it is open source and is broken into many pieces. It usually requires a lot of knowledge to get it working
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