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Network Operators Love Open-Source and Open Systems — in Theory

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Network Operators Love Open-Source and Open Systems — in Theory

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Network Operators Love Open-Source and Open Systems — in Theory

Operators like the ideas of open systems and open-source code when it comes to SDN and NFV deployments, but they consider neither concept a slam-dunk, judging from the results of a survey commissioned by the OpenDaylight Project.

The results are compiled in a report by GigaOm Research titled, “SDN, NFV, and Open Source: the Operator’s [sic] View,” being released today. It’s based on a survey of 600 medium-sized and large operators — 300 enterprises and 300 service providers.

Open Arms for Open-Source

While everyone likes the idea of open systems — that is, equipment that doesn’t create a vendor lock-in situation — only 22 percent of the respondents said they “demand the use of open systems wherever possible.”

Another 61 percent prefer open systems but are OK with buying proprietary products “that add proven value” — a sign that openness is likeable but that customers aren’t dismissing single-vendor offerings. Every vendor claims its gear will interoperate with others’, but some, such as Cisco, also offer end-to-end packages — and the report suggests that those offerings can beat fully open alternatives.

When it comes to open-source software, 95 percent of the operators “look at open-source as a positive attribute of any SDN or NFV” offering, the report states — but that might be because open-source just sounds good: It’s free (or relatively inexpensive) and has that theoretically infinite army of user/developers behind it. Calling that “positive” seems like a no-brainer, especially considering most large networks probably use open-source code already.

A telling stat is that 76 percent of the participants said they prefer to get their open-source products from commercial entities. This suggests they like the idea of open-source, but they also want the formality of development and testing that comes with a commercial product — and they probably like having that proverbial throat to choke, too.

Still, open-source software has been important to SDN’s development and could be crucial in neighboring areas, such as network management.

“For too long, management has been underserved by network advancements and vendor developments. Operators indicate high hopes across the full spectrum of management, from security to automation to analytics to optimization,” the report reads.

The biggest concerns about open-source code were security and reliability, not surprisingly. This reflects operators’ attitudes rather than the quality of the products, but it’s still on the developers’ backs to assuage these concerns.

SDN? Any Day Now

The survey also queried service providers and enterprises about SDN and NFV in general. Nothing shocking came up, but there were a couple of surprises.

Asked where they want to implement SDN, more enterprises cited the WAN (31 percent) than the data center (26 percent). The wireless LAN was third with 17 percent. That’s unexpected, because most SDN discussion is about the data center. But the WAN needs help because that’s where “maximum access meets minimal control,” Leary writes. It’s “an area of high cost and complexity” and also “a security nightmare.” (Service providers, on the other hand, picked the data center as the No. 1 target.)

Operators were also suspiciously eager to deploy SDN and/or NFV, with 70 percent saying they’d do it by the end of 2014, and 97 percent by the end of 2015.

Now, 17 percent of the total say they’ve already deployed, so that accounts for some of that figure. But overall, the number seems overly optimistic, as Leary points out multiple times in the report.

What really matters is that those aggressive timelines, even if they slip, “will surely drive heightened activity in solutions development, validation, and availability,” Leary writes.


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