Open-Source Projects Are Not Created Equal
Multiple distributions of Linux are nothing new, but when vendor consortia start throwing their weight around to back one flavor versus another, it starts to tear at the very fabric of the open-source community.
The Linux Foundation announced early this month that an OpenSwitch Project to create a network operating system based on Linux is now a Linux Foundation project. Originally developed by Hewlett Packard Enterprise, the new Linux Foundation project is drawing support from Barefoot Networks, Broadcom, Cavium, Edgecore Networks, Extreme Networks, LinkedIn, Marvell, Mellanox, Nephos, P4.org, Quattro Networks and SnapRoute.
Notably absent from this list are providers of proprietary network operating systems, such as Cisco and Juniper Networks, as well as other telecommunications carriers and providers of Linux-based network operating systems, such as Cumulus Networks. At a time when Linux-based networking running on x86 servers as an alternative to traditional proprietary networks is just now getting off the ground, the launch of a Linux Foundation project has the potential to do more harm than good.
In fact, vendors should be taking more care to make sure that an actual open-source community exists around a technology. While the size of the open-source community surrounding OpenSwitch is questionable, Cumulus Networks CTO JR Rivers noted that beyond backing from vendors such as Dell the company already has 450 customers. In addition, its open-source network operating system is more advanced in that the latest release announced this week includes support for 100G networks and Linux Virtual Routing and Forwarding (VRF), he said.
The real issue, of course, is to what degree vendors are starting to use consortia to reduce their research and development costs in a way that skirts antitrust regulations. There are now multiple open-source consortia backed by a broad range of vendors. But when the size of the communities surrounding those projects is compared to, for example, the size of the open-source community surrounding open-source Apache projects, it becomes clear that other vendor agendas are at work.
None of this means that solution providers should immediately discount vendor consortium projects. But in terms of assessing their true viability, solution providers should take a hard look at the size of the open-source community surrounding that project before deciding when and where to place their bets.