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All Hail (and Support) Open Source!

At this year’s Open Networking Summit, there was a touch of nostalgia looking back to how far the open source community has come since Bill Joy worked on the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) version of Unix in the late 1970s. There was also an implicit challenge to the IT industry: Offer more integration of solutions with open source products.  Yes, it’s expensive. But customers have demonstrated that they want open solutions. They’re wary of vendor lock-in. They want extensibility and interoperability with multiple vendors.

Open source is the future. We ignore it at our risk. It isn’t to be feared. But open source is not a panacea; there are a few different aspects to openness that deserve clarification.

Correcting Some Misconceptions

An open source product doesn’t mean it’s cheap or free.

Open source communities and projects have helped the networking industry work together to build a common set of tools. Each is like the ability to communicate using the same language in the same country.  The tools (the language) may be open but the products (books, newspapers) have a cost, which is as it should be in a marketplace. And integration costs for open source technology can be significant.

Open source solutions don’t provide a cookie-cutter approach – every solution needs customization.

Let’s say you want to build a video solution. You download some code from an open source community that allows you to do transcoding, for example. But then you need a transport solution with a resilient path so the quality of experience is acceptable. And that part of the solution―and many other pieces―has a cost. Ditto for business or mobile services.

So it’s important to understand that to be commercially viable, open source solutions require integration. And integration has a cost.

What We’re Doing

Cisco’s commitment to the open source community spans our entire history. We’re involved in standards development at organizations and efforts like the Internet Engineering Taskforce (IETF), the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF),  TM Forum Interface Program, the Linux community, BGP, Tigerstripe, MPLS, the Vovida SIP stack and many more. We use open source software extensively in solutions, like our Network Functions Virtualization Infrastructure, which involved the integration of compute from a third-party vendor with OpenStack. And we have contributed more than 40 givebacks of open source software over the past three decades.

Open as Global Metaphor

Today, tech words and concepts pervade our speech. We talk about hacking our lifestyle or how much bandwidth we have or our individual solution stacks. Open source has also entered the global lexicon. In a new book, “The Chessboard and the Web: Strategies of Connection in a Networked World,” Anne-Marie Slaughter writes about a new world order where the inherent openness of networks will lead to greater transparency and citizen participation.

In our own industry, the benefits of open source are becoming ever clearer. That’s why it’s important for networking and other IT vendors to support open source and to also invest in integration of your products with open source tools and open standards. We’ve done so at Cisco. And it’s no mere coincidence that we call our solution stack to help service providers address the requirements of the digital business the Cisco Open Network Architecture.

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