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May 18, 2011

Networking Moves Towards Open Source

For years, open source carried a stigma that conveyed a lack of trust in non-proprietary technology. During the past half decade, however, the presence of open source technology in business IT environments has emerged as not only a viable alternative to costly proprietary options, but often a better one. In addition to cost benefits, open source also offers several other benefits that are critical to ensuring business success, including improved quality, interoperability with other technology and systems, freedom from vendor lock-in, flexibility and customization, and quality thanks to the involvement of communities of developers.

In fact, Michael Skok, general partner at North Bridge Venture Partners, recently announced the results of the annual Future of Open Source survey, which indicated that freedom from vendor lock-in is the biggest driver of open source adoption.

The survey also clearly shows that the majority of respondents are already using open source in a significant capacity – of the 455 respondents, only 21 percent said open source constitutes less than 25 percent of their IT infrastructure. That figure drops to a mere nine percent when projecting open source deployment in five years.

I spoke with Nick Ilyadis, CTO at Broadcom (News - Alert), at Interop 2011 in Las Vegas, who agrees that open source will continue to grow as a disruptive force in technology, due in no small part to the sheer number of projects and developers working with open source technologies.

Broadcom is coming off a $6.82 billion year in 2010, and started the current year with a record first quarter, boasting $1.2 billion in revenues, thanks to a customer base that comprises a who’s who in networking.

The company has released the second version of its 64-port 10G switch, its 5th generation 10G product, and is focusing heavily on a broad portfolio of energy efficient Ethernet products that are designed to turn off when not in use, sending intermittent burst signals to determine when to power up again.

“There is a lot of network edge energy savings available,” says Ilyadis. “Most businesses use about one percent of their overall available bandwidth because usage is highly bursty.”

For higher loads, the company has also developed energy saving technology that hands over the processing to the controller from the CPU, a strategy that Ilyadis says can save 180 watts with two servers, which can turn into megawatts in large data centers.

But perhaps the most interesting of Broadcom’s current ventures – and one that continues to reflect its drive to help businesses reduce costs while increasing efficiency – is its participation in the Open Networking Foundation, of which it is a founding member.

Ilyadis says the goal is to create an open source network operating system, a platform that will drive subsequent innovation that can be layered on top of the OS, not unlike the Linux model.

The first step in this evolution, the OpenFlow protocol – a result of six years of research that started with a team at Stanford University – effectively removes switch and router control from the hardware layer, placing it in a software-based controller instead. 

The popularity of cloud computing is only adding to the growth of open source, as the industry has witnessed an increasing number of open source cloud projects each year. OpenFlow, itself, has already won the attention of a number of network infrastructure vendors, suggesting that a development and adoption of a full open source network OS is imminent. If that’s the case, once open networking standards become ratified, the five-year projections of the Future of Open Source (News - Alert) survey will prove conservative, as businesses will flock to a system that offers them increased flexibility, control, and choice in networking.


Erik Linask (News - Alert) is Group Editorial Director of TMC, which brings news and compelling feature articles, podcasts, and videos to 2,000,000 visitors each month. To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Erik Linask
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