The evolution and advancements of open source networking projects is the direct result of the high demands of network scaling and severe customization in the software. One can even consider this to be the building-block of the next generation information technology.
We say this because many networking vendors are using some amount of open source projects as the core of their various networking products.
Home to a major chunk of the open networking projects, Linux Foundation fosters the sector and redefines how they innovate their networks and create a new stack of services.
Some of the widely known open source networking projects are:
ONF (Open Networking Foundation)
A non-profit coalition of operators who believe in transforming network infrastructure. Funded by companies such as Deutsche Telekom, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Verizon, and Yahoo!, the aim was to promote Software Defined Networking and standardizing the OpenFlow protocols and other related technologies. ONF being an umbrella enterprise, hosts various communities and projects simultaneously. ONF members includes networking-equipment vendors, semiconductor companies, computer companies, software companies, telecom service providers, hyperscale data-centre operators, and enterprise users. Some of their well-known projects are OpenFlow, ONOS, CORD etc.
ONUG (Open Networking User Group)
Established in 2012, ONUG was created to satisfy the need of a user-focus space where the best practices and challenges of the IT world can be shared with the like-minded people of the digital market & economy. Many impressive names have been added to the ONUG board like Bank of America, Cigna, Citigroup, FedEx, Gap Inc., GE, JPMorgan Chase, eBay and many more. Over the years, ONUG has proven to be successful in bringing together IT executives, academics, researchers, government representatives, vendors and cloud/service providers to contribute to the advancement of software defined markets.
ODL (Open DayLight)
A Linux Foundation project, ODL began in 2013. It is possibly the largest open source SDN controller platform. Some vendors who have been users/supporters of this project are Ericsson, Brocade, HPE etc. This project was created with the evolution of SDN and its sole purpose is to create software controllers for the virtual networks. The architect can use parts or the entire code to create the controller. It is a flexible platform that can be deployed for customizing and automating networks of any size.
launched by AT&T in 2017, ECOMP stands for Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management and Policy. Even though it was developed internally to manage and automate VNFs (Virtual Network Functions) in its networks, the technology was handed over to Linux Foundation for further adaptation. According to AT&T, ECOMP is more of an ‘operating system’ than anything else for the developers to build their VNFs on. Linux Foundation has high hopes for ECOMP. They believe that if correctly adapted, it would provide enterprises a vendor-neutral open source framework.
OpenStack is a software platform for cloud control and management and is deployed mostly as IaaS. OpenStack was born as a joint project between Rackspace Hosting and NASA way back in 2010. Since its re-branding later in 2012 as a Non-profit entity, more than 500 enterprises have joined the project. Since this cloud operating system is the result of many generations of production software, it is expected that this source code will be the base of all future open source implementations.
Soon to be a part of ONF, P4 is a high-level programming language that enables the network hardware like the switches and the routers. Pretty much similar to the OpenFlow source control software, the only difference being that P4 concentrates on the data plane layer. The language is rather unique and has certain benefits. The network engineers can add new features and protocols and remove the unused and outdated ones. P4 also enhances efficiency by increasing the processing power of the existing chips. The language was originally described in a SIGCOMM CCR paper in 2014 titled “Programming Protocol-Independent Packet Processors” (P4).
Supported by an impressive collection of 23 founding members, ONF launched Stratum – open source switch operating system for Software Defined Networks in 2018. Google, being one of the founding members, open sourced the first revision of source code for Stratum, which helped the project with a solid base of Google’s production network software. Stratum’s aim of delivering the next generation of software defined networking is fulfilled with its white box switch solution.
Concerns of Open Source Projects
Not everything is a perfect picture with Open Source Networking projects though. There are some very real concerns that cannot be overlooked.
Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth
The biggest inherent reality is that a single open source project includes many independent developers. While it is a plausible argument that more the contributor, higher the risk of security, these risks can be controlled with a careful approach by the community organization. Also, it is important that to control the sheer volume of contributors and their codes, a set of rules (guidelines) have to be followed. However, it must be understood that lack of disciplined project maintainers, reviewers and owners, the project can end up being a breeding ground for vulnerabilities, hence it is crucial that a tight control is maintained by the organization.
Licence to Code
There always exists a software licence of some sort for a given open source project. It is imperative that the developers must be aware and in should be in agreement with the license type. It is a major concern for the companies who end up using the open source material without comprehending the licencing obligations. Breaching these obligations have serious outcomes as we can see with many unresolved legal issues that are stacked up against many enterprises regarding some open source licenses.
Definition & Delegation – the 2 D’s of Open Source Projects
For a smooth flow of tasks and achieving progress in record time, it is essential that each task is defined clearly with their roles and is delegated amongst the contributors so that many potential issues like duplication of work, or stepping on someone’s toe can be wiped out in the beginning itself. This means less drama and more focused workforce to accomplish the target set for them.
From what we are seeing, open source projects may not be the perfect solution, but most service providers/vendors use it in some form or another in their architectures.