Why Enterprises Should Consider Moving To Open Source Networking

John Clark

The traditional way of designing and procuring hyper-scale networks has been seen almost as an outmoded concept since the advent of Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) but the key part of this wave, the use of open source operating systems for network switches and routers, is allowing a real “sea-change” in the industry.

Why Is Open Source Attractive to the Enterprise?

The Capex budgets required for network infrastructure can be reduced dramatically, with cost-savings of 20-50% often quoted but also the time-to-rollout for new network projects can be markedly shortened, once the approaches are understood and adopted. Automation techniques with standards such as OpenStack, allowing workflows to be pre-defined for often-used network topologies, are also further widening these gaps to the ‘old world’ network.  It’s for these reasons that the adoption of Open Source Networking is now becoming part of Enterprise-scale deployments and ‘tech-savvy’ organizations are moving to the new, open approach.

Where did SDN Originate?

It’s possible to trace the ‘DNA’ of SDN right back to a project called Ethane at Stanford University pre-2008.  This was aimed at Enterprise networks and was formulated to separate the control plane and forwarding plane of network devices, allowing simpler infrastructure to be used in conjunction with centralized command and control for network policies.

This work produced the OpenFlow protocol and an associated API and in 2010 a collaboration between Rackspace and NASA produced OpenStack, the open source Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) standard for cloud computing. This platform includes definitions for storage, compute and networking (the latter being covered by OpenStack’s Neutron element), for IP addressing, VLAN definition etc and support for Open vSwitch (OVS) – a virtualized network switch. Plug-in support for Neutron has evolved to include support for hardware vendors such as Cisco and Mellanox.

Pressure was also notably applied by the Service Provider community to reduce the money they spent with internetworking hardware vendors and the time it took to bring projects into production. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) proposed as early as 2004, the Forwarding and Control Element Separation (ForCES) standard. The culmination of this and research work in academia produced deployments of SDN by companies like Google and the formation of the Open Network Foundation (ONF) in 2011 and the OpenDaylight project in 2013, by the Linux Foundation.

Why Hasn’t This Happened Sooner?

So, the benefits of open source networking are well understood by service providers and cloud providers, but there has been a slower uptake amongst enterprises. Interestingly, a large percentage of these enterprises use cloud services which run open source technologies for their off-premises services. This makes it clear that enterprise IT managers should consider moving to open source networking, for all the cost savings, the speed and agility of deployment, and the programmability that it offers. It may have always been easier for network teams to continue with traditional closed source network hardware vendors but an openness to adopt a newer approach can really provide benefits to the businesses and organizations that are looking at network renewal in the near future.

Contact us or call us on 0845 625 9025 to find out how we can help your enterprise transition to open source networking.