OpenContrail: Where Does It Stand?

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Back in September 2013, Juniper Networks announced that along with the commercial release of its Contrail software defined networking controller, it would also be open sourcing the Contrail controller code. Like many other networking vendors, Juniper is no stranger to the open source community. The company belongs to the OpenStack and OpenFlow communities and the Open Networking Foundation, responsible for OpenFlow. Still, the decision to open source Contrail under the name OpenContrail drew some derision, with SDNCentral naming OpenContrail a “Turkey of the Year” for 2013. At the beginning of 2014, where does OpenContrail stand?

It has received some “very pleasant validation,” according to Jennifer Lin, senior director of product management at Juniper Networks. Lin leads the Contrail product management team at Juniper, which she joined in December of 2012 with Juniper’s acquisition of Contrail.

“We put a lot of information out there, and one of the things we’ve seen is that the technical architecture document has been well received and used by a lot of people in their own timeline to understand what we’re doing and come back with specific questions that are relevant in their context and application,” Lin said. That is, she explained, what Juniper had hoped for and “one of the beauties of the open source model.”

Juniper’s ultimate goal when it comes to Contrail and SDN is, of course, to boost potential customers over the initial educational hurdles and accelerate their adoption of SDN in production environments. To that end, open sourcing Contrail helps in several ways. For one, it provides an open forum for education on the key concepts and “new architectural assumptions” of software defined networking, Lin said. The open source model also enables a focus on more incremental and specific deployment scenarios, which will be of use both to the organizations dealing with those scenarios and to the development community as a whole. And, Lin added, open source in general is becoming critical to the enterprise networking stack.

Jennifer Lin, Juniper Networks“Open cloud architectures, for instance OpenStack, are gaining a lot of momentum in the marketplace because they provide that vendor-agnostic view of how the broader cloud architectures evolve. That’s an inherent part of our strategy, participating openly in that broader community. With the GA launch, we announced that we wanted to participate in open cloud architectures like OpenStack and CloudStack,” Lin said.

To those ends, Juniper supports the OpenContrail community not only online, but through “active participation at the local level,” Lin said, through events both in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Juniper is headquartered, and globally, with the help of Juniper partners and customers.

“We’ve got another meetup coming next month, and we get a lot of participation. I had another partner yesterday say they saw we had a couple of meetups coming and wanted to sit down in that and then share with us some of the things they’ve been hearing from their customers,” Lin said.

OpenContrail is still in its early stages. SDNCentral pointed out that as of December, “most or all” of the OpenContrail contributor list on GitHub is from Juniper, though that in itself may not be a bad sign. Contributions ramped up significantly in December.

As far as the potential competition of OpenContrail with Juniper’s commercial Contrail offering, Lin doesn’t see a problem. “What we’ve called Juniper Contrail is really more about the commercial relationship with partners and customers,” she said. On the other hand, “OpenContrail has appealed to a lot of our technology ecosystem partners, who can on their own time drill into our source code and understand what we’re doing.”

OpenContrail is, of course, not the only open source SDN controller out there. A number of other projects exist, among them Big Switch’s FloodLight controller, which, like OpenContrail, is production-ready, and the OpenDaylight Project, still in development. Ultimately, though, “Juniper is a strong believer that open source is not a zero-sum game,” Lin said. She added that “open source projects are designed to foster innovation and further the rate of technology advancements. There aren’t any winners or losers.”

Well, that is, except for vendors’ commercial interests. There, Lin expressed confidence in both Contrail’s staying power and OpenContrail’s competitive edge.

“Most customers who are going to do a very large-scale deployment expect to have a commercial relationship with Juniper,” she said. And when it comes to the source code, she explained that “Contrail is based on proven, stable networking protocols such as BGP and MPLS. This will be important to customers and developers who value interoperability and integration between physical and virtual networks.”

“With OpenContrail, we have opened up significantly more relevant functionality in our source code disclosure and have cleanly documented and exposed Contrail APIs to the community. This should make it easier to use for testing and supporting and building a much broader range of customer-relevant use cases than current open source alternatives,” Lin said.

Header photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

ENP editor Jude ChaoJude Chao is managing editor of Enterprise Networking Planet. Follow her on Twitter @judechao.

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