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Monday, April 8, 2013

The OpenDaylight Project Is Open Source Networking, Corporate Style

Now, this is news: A bunch of big and powerful companies may have something in their common interest that also benefits their customers.

The Linux Foundation, which has managed the creation of that popular computer operating system, is working with a number of large technology companies to develop an open source project around software-defined networking.

S.D.N., as it is called, is important both in lowering costs and increasing the capabilities of the globe-spanning data center networks that have come to dominate the computer industry. These networks, which carry Internet traffic, hold personal and corporate data and manage cellphones, among other things, have largely been cobbled together from older equipment and use traditional practices.

S.D.N., which involves putting more complex software atop standardized components, would make it easier to improve network performance and create new applications.

Members of the group include Cisco Systems, Juniper Networks, I.B.M. and VMware, along with Big Switch Networks, Brocade, Citrix, Microsoft, Arista Networks, NEC and Red Hat. Each company will contribute some of its technology to the open source effort, called the OpenDaylight Project. As with many other open source projects, the final specifications of the product will be determined by a steering committee elected by members.

In some ways, OpenDaylight looks like a more efficient version of the kind of industrial standards body that governs the creation of radio systems for cellphones. While ostensibly impartial, these bodies have often been highly political and could delay technology deployment for years while companies fought to have their technology incorporated into common use.

The companies in the project have spent billions of dollars already on S.D.N. VMware, for example, paid $1.23 billion for an S.D.N. company called Nicira, while Cisco has financed its own S.D.N. company.

The OpenDaylight participants may have decided it’s just more efficient to get to work, and work on the parts of their technologies that mean something to customers, than to fight each other over details. OpenDaylight could also lower customer resistance to adopting S.D.N., as there will be fewer concerns about incompatible technologies.

“We were contacted, based on our ability to structure the project,” said Jim Zemlin, the executive director of the Linux Foundation. “These folks are pooling their research and development costs. The value is at the higher levels (of software), rather than who has the best file format.”

The first code for the project is supposed to be released in the third quarter this year. This will include basics like a controller, a virtual overlay network, and switch device enhancements. These are far from trivial creations: One contribution from Big Switch alone has over 200,000 lines of software code.

The real test of whether this works like an open source project will come over a longer time. It will depend on how well it attracts new members and independent developers and how fast it creates new products.