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Sep 20 2018

Open source and proprietary software – friends not foes

There’s a lot going for open source. It speeds up software development, lowers vendor lock in and can be extended freely to cover new use cases. Oh, it’s also a lot of fun to develop new functionalities in open source.

But there’s a downside – isn’t there always? Testing and debugging open source, especially when new or obscure hardware is involved, can be hard work. This is where proprietary software shines. It is usually easier to install and maintain, is better tested and comes with documentation. Proprietary software can also come with support and provide service level agreements - for a price. 

How can we get the best of both worlds?

How can open source and commercial software live together? As my colleague Tommy wrote in his recent blog post, open source makes most sense for non-differentiating components, while proprietary is best for innovations or custom functionalities. So, a company could develop and use open source software, test and debug it, add its secret sauce and make proprietary solutions.

I recently took part in two events that were a showcase of how we can best combine open and proprietary software development – but first, some background.

The OPNFV (Open Platform for NFV) is an open source integration and testing project that has developed a verification program for cloud infrastructure. The verification suite itself is tested against an open source stack consisting of Linux, OpenStack, Open vSwitch and open source SDN controllers. Once the tests verify the open source stack, they are used to verify proprietary stacks that behave the same way.

The Nokia Cloud Infrastructure for Real Time (NCIR) is based on open source components, but it also has some commercial functionalities for real-time and high availability. It is OPNFV Verified, meaning it behaves the same way as the purely open source OPNFV stacks. This gives users of NCIR confidence there are no incompatible modifications to standard interfaces.

Festivals of testing

The first of the two events I mentioned was the ETSI Plugtest in June 2018 where different commercial cloud infrastructure, management and orchestration (MANO), and Virtualized Network Functions (VNFs) were tested together. NCIR was also part of this. Since a test cannot detect everything that can go wrong, a plugfest event is a great opportunity to find more potential incompatibilities between open source and proprietary implementations.

The second event was the Akraino Edge Cloud developer summit. Its focus is edge clouds, a hot area because of forthcoming 5G networks, which will also have a major impact beyond the telecommunications industry.

Although the details of Akraino are still being worked on, it can provide a forum for companies to collaborate on common components that will be part of a specific blueprint - a combination of hardware and software that implements a use case. There can be many blueprints that implement the same use case. The Akraino project is an exciting one and we are looking forward to contributing to it.

Please come and see open source and proprietary software in action in Amsterdam at the Nokia booth, at both the Open Networking Summit on 25-27 September and the OCP Regional Summit on 1-2 October 2018.

Share your thoughts on this topic by joining the Twitter discussion with @nokia and @nokianetworks using #innovation #opensource 

About Tapio Tallgren

Tapio has been using open source operating systems (Linux) since 1993 and was one of the first people to use an open source programming language (Python) to write mobile applications.  

Tweet me at @tapio_ta

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