Open Source and Floodlight: The Biggest Opportunity for SDN

In a recent post on SDNCentral titled “Open Source: The Biggest Risk to SDN”, the author attempts to define the various types of open source business models, including how value is created for users and partners within an open source ecosystem.  He described some risks facing partners and users when they are considering adopting code from “single-vendor” projects, specifically calling out the Floodlight and Indigo projects, which are supported in large part by Big Switch. And then he posits a scenario wherein Big Switch is acquired by  a competitor with a poor open source track record (think: golden gate bridge, and switches and routers).

The author takes the position that single-vendor poses a risk to SDN adoption as a whole by concluding that users and partners should be very wary of using Floodlight & Indigo code because it is very likely that Cisco may very well acquire Big Switch and thus close the project down.

While I’m a reader of SDNCentral, I believe that the author misses the point entirely.

In fact, this argument isn’t even new:  fear, uncertainty and doubt. Rackspace was under similar fire before, during – and to some degree, after – their huge continuing investment to move OpenStack into a Foundation that today enjoys over 400 active developers from over 180 companies who have contributed over 500,000 lines of code.  Rackspace eventually moved the project to a foundation after it was clear that the community was broad enough and strong enough to support such a move.  In fact, Rackspace never needed to make money on the OpenStack code:  they were primarily a service provider who had a vision for hybrid cloud, who saw the value in an ecosystem who could out with R&D, and supply their partners (and customers) with software that they could interoperate with.

Subversion is another example of a project that started as single-vendor open-source (founded in 2000 by CollabNet) and has seen incredible success over the past decade.

At Big Switch Networks, we’ve heard these arguments before, but we’ve been quite successful at convincing our multitude of partners and users to join us.  Here’s why:

  • There will be an Open SDN controller standard to compete with proprietary controller solutions from VMware and Cisco.  That  controller will be the Linux of networking, the MySQL to their Oracle. The Apache web server to the cadre of Web server from the mid 1990s. Big Switch Networks is as committed as our users and partners are to keep the controller open.
  • Our choice of Apache2 for a license is very different from MySQL or Java. Apache2 means we want to help partners. You don’t like how we run the project? Fork it!  Already we have heard of many, many companies who have built products on Floodlight. If we wanted to control or limit that adoption, we would’ve picked a less permissive license like the GPL.
  • Our entire platform is built upon industry standards and, where they do not exist, we have published our own work. We do not have proprietary tunneling, overlay, or communication protocols.  We have demonstrated this commitment repeatedly with the contribution of our open core, Floodlight, to the to open source community and the publication of common APIs across both our commercial and open source controller.
  • Big Switch Networks is the only vendor in the industry with a truly platform-independent approach and a commitment to an open architecture. We’ll continue to deliver on that commitment going forward.  We represent the industry’s most open and standards based SDN and OpenFlow implementation and advocate of an open architecture – period.

It’s very easy to say “this is all good and well, but if Big Switch gets a 1B offer from Cisco, they won’t turn it down” and the result will be that the open ecosystem will be shut down.

But this statement fails to consider that the ecosystem, the project, and the vision for Open SDN are larger than any one company.  If Big Switch Networks were to disappear tomorrow, there would still be over 10,000 organizations who have downloaded the project,  dozens of individuals who have contributed to the project (who are not Big Switch employees) as well as of hundreds of developers who participate on the mailing lists. Furthermore, the project is Apache2 licensed and can be forked at any time by any organization.

Big Switch does not want to dominate this project, because that would mean that we are proprietary, which is precisely the opposite of our vision for Open SDN. Consider:

  • If there was an open API standard already, we would have adopted it instead of defining one
  • If there were already dozens of OpenFlow switches on the market, we would have integrated with them instead of helping switch vendors build them with our Indigo and LOXI projects
  • We integrate with OVS instead of writing our own vSwitch because it’s already standard and in wide use
  • We support OpenFlow because it is sanctioned by the ONF (and hey, our CEO along with several Big Switch architects invented it! We’re committed to open networking.)

As a partner or a user, the real question you have to ask yourself is not “what happens if Big Switch gets acquired” but instead “do I believe that an open standards, open API, and open source” approach is the future of networking.

What’s the alternative? Are there other competitors that have exhibited a more open architecture?  Is there some non-profit industry group that has infinite resources to build and support commercial-grade deployments with another open source controller?  In the real world, we’re are the only vendor committed to providing an open architecture and open core controller for the growing SDN industry. Period.

If you believe strongly in this vision, then how about joining up and helping us transform networking with Open SDN?

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