There are many benefits of an open network, but they all come down to enabling great choice of technology for enterprises.
No single technology supplier will ever meet all of your enterprise requirements. Every business uses a multi-vendor approach and the only way for this to be successful is to embrace an open approach whenever possible, so that diverse technologies can work together effectively and easily.
Within the context of networking, I’ve identified four areas where open has a role:
Open hardware standards
What is the value of open source software to an enterprise? It’s not really from “free software”, as there are other investments to make besides a licence fee (e.g. professional and support services). I believe the value from open source is from three areas: (i) the more vibrant developer ecosystem (more features); (ii) the ability to customise the software to your own needs, and (iii) avoiding being locked in to a single technology supplier, as any partner can work with open source solutions. All of these are really about choice.
The second area to consider is open APIs. By using open APIs, any two systems can interface easily with each other. Perhaps the greatest success story of open API is the rise of AWS, which was built upon a decision from Jeff Bezos that all systems (even internal systems) should be designed so that they only use open APIs that can be exposed to external customers. Networks also benefit from being built using technologies which use open APIs. Use cases include: implementation of automation tools; the ability to use multi-vendor management tools; and allowing higher level applications to directly configure the network environment. When using Open APIs, you’re not locked in to solutions from the vendor who supplies the networking hardware/software. Open APIs enable more ways to configure and manage networks – giving you greater choice.
Open protocols are fundamental to a multi-vendor environment. There are countless open standards, including old favourites such as IP, MPLS, BGP, etc. The use of open protocols allow hardware from multiple suppliers to work together. Today’s connected economy would be impossible without open standards. Open standards may then seem like something you don’t need to worry about. But that would be a mistake. There are many networking functions which still rely upon proprietary implementations. Sometimes this is because no standard has yet been agreed to, but other times proprietary implementations of less prominent functions are used to lock enterprises into a specific technology supplier. At Juniper Networks, open networking is preferred because it delivers greater value to our customers. As an example, the Contrail Networking SDN controller has been designed to use the open protocols of BGP and MPLS. This means that it can work with networking hardware from any vendor that supports these foundational technologies. This is not the case with all SDN controllers. Again, the use of open protocols enables greater customer choice.
The final role for open within a network is in the area of hardware design. One company that has been active in this area is Facebook via initiatives such as the Open Compute Project, Open Network Foundation and Telecom Infra Project. Such projects are about giving businesses the choice to design their own hardware to meet their own specific needs, which can then run tailored software. There are great benefits to this level of choice to some businesses (especially those with the greatest scale or specialised requirements), but the additional costs of designing and supporting hardware will not make economic sense for most businesses. If the software layer uses the right mixture of open source, open APIs, and open protocols then the hardware is all abstracted away from the solution and should be easy to swap out, if required. Hardware choice is best enabled for most businesses by using open software.
An open network is therefore all about real choice. It allows a business to choose how the applications interact with the network, and it allows you to choose a multi-vendor environment.
Borrowing a theme from my previous blog, I would define a network with a grade of 10 out of 10 for being open as one where:
It is simple to add additional features using other open APIs or by using open source
All IT systems can directly interface with each other using open APIs
No proprietary protocols are used
You can easily swap out all functions to avoid silos
As I finish this blog; I have a few questions for you:
How would you score your own network on a scale of 1 out of 10 for automation?
Where would you like to be in 2-3 years’ time?
What are the immediate next steps you would like to take to close your open networking gap?
If you want to learn more about some of the things that Juniper is delivering for open networks automation check out some of the links below: