Where Open Source and Standards Intersect

At the Open Networking Summit (ONS) event last week, open-source was a frequent topic of discussion, with vendors publicly embracing it as the basis for networking efforts. The idea of openness in networking is not a new one, however, as standards have long played a role in providing various forms of “open” networks.

With that being the case, where is the intersection between open-source and standards?

Open source and standards in networking: Working together

Guru Parulkar, Chair of ONS and the Executive Director at the Open Networking Research Center (ONRC), commented that many of the networking standards groups want to create standards working in collaboration with open-source groups.

“Specifications are being built on open-source and that is informing the standards, rather than creating standards and then creating the implementation,” Parulkar said.

Parulkar emphasized that in his view, the older model of sitting in committees for years to define standards and then build implementations that support those standards no longer works. Heather Kirksey, Director of the OPNV project, argued that open-source does what standards are meant to do. That is, it drives interoperable implementation of technology.

Jim Zemlin, Executive Director of the Linux Foundation, said that he doesn’t see a conflict between open-source and standards organizations. That said, Zemlin does see a need to accelerate the feedback loop between open-source software developers and the groups that build specifications. There is a gap between the formal standards creation process, which can be slow and methodical, and open-source software development, which emphasizes releasing often and regularly.

“We’re going to be releasing courses on open-source for standards development professionals,” Zemlin said. “How we can marry the intellectual property regimes that govern open-source including licenses and the intellectual property policies of standards groups.”

Among the topics of concern are how confidentially and patents are handled in open-source in contrast to how they are typically dealt with by standards organizations.

“We think it’s complementary and it’s about how to accelerate the feedback loop,” Zemlin said.

As to why so many vendors in networking and elsewhere are now embracing open-source, it’s not just about helping to influence standards. It’s also a matter of business expediency. Zemlin noted that most of the organizations he speaks to want to be part of the open-source movement in some way rather than being disrupted by it. He added that many technology executives tell him that they would rather “be at the table than on the menu.”

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at Enterprise Networking Planet and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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