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Open vs Proprietary? A question of practical philosophy

by Curt.Beckmann ‎08-07-2014 07:16 AM - edited ‎08-07-2014 08:34 AM (6,297 Views)


Within our industry, there is a growing divide between two schools of thought; between those companies that believe that the future of the network lies in openness, and those that think a proprietary approach is the compelling way to go.


Many readers will pause here and say “Hang on… That debate is over. Everyone knows that customers want open standards!” And that highlights an important point.  Customers do, by and large, want openness. Vendors have recognized that preference and highlighted their membership in various open communities. No vendor has leapt forth and insisted that closed is the way to go. The tension is more complex; it is between open-and-fully-interoperable, and ostensibly-open-yet-proprietary.  The question of interoperability will clearly impact how your network and your business will be able to function and evolve in the long-term.


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In essence, the open approach is based on the belief that, in order to truly align an enterprise’s infrastructure strategy with its business requirements, customers must be free to choose the solutions that best meet their specific needs, regardless of which vendor builds them. In order for this ‘best of breed’ approach to work, technologies must be – not just based on open standards – but genuinely interoperable, giving customers the option to bring in specific products and components as their needs evolve and change.


At the other end of the spectrum is the open-yet-proprietary approach, which requires organizations to stick solely to one equipment provider.  Advocates of this proprietary approach will tell you that it too has its own advantages. However, with the demands placed on enterprises’ core infrastructure growing all the time and new innovations bringing major changes to the way that networks are deployed, configured and controlled, this ‘locked in’ approach is increasingly seen as dated and restrictive, rather than efficient.


At Brocade, we have long been firmly committed to the open, interoperable approach. We fundamentally believe that the flexibility and choice that it brings makes it the best option for our customers, who all have unique and complex requirements and need to be able to design and adapt their infrastructure to meet those needs.


With the industry moving towards Software-Defined Networking (SDN), the importance of this kind of openness will only increase. The growing complexity of today's networks, and the move to greater use of virtualization, mean that it is simply no longer feasible to rely on a single vendor to deliver an end-to-end solution that fits every customer's requirements of service agility and scalability.


That is why we recently launched the Brocade Vyatta Platform, the first phase of a multiyear strategy that delivers an open and modular networking platform, giving cloud and telecommunications service providers greater choice and flexibility as they move towards SDN. This is also why we are actively engaged with our partners on broader industry initiatives, such as OpenFlow, OpenDaylight and OpenStack. As a working group chair at the Open Networking Foundation, I have worked closely with the world's leading experts on SDN and I have seen first-hand the progress that has been made in the development of open frameworks, architecture and standards for SDN.  I expect the next 12 months to be especially fruitful for open SDN.


And yet, I expect the debate between the interoperability and proprietary philosophies to continue for some time to come.  The good news is that organizations will have an increasing ability to choose a path that works for them. And over time, with agility, flexibility and control now more important to customers than ever, I’m willing to bet that true openness will win out. 


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