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Open Source’s Role in UC & Networking on the Rise

While not making headlines or being overhyped like artificial intelligence (AI), open source software is fundamentally changing how we build our future networks and communication services.
While open source software such as Red Hat OS, WordPress for blogging, and the Google Chrome browser (among others) has radically transformed various parts of the IT stack, it has been more of a niche solution in networking communications. Some of the reasons for open source’s lack of success in this space are:
  • High availability -- Good enough is not good enough. Businesses can’t run if their network and communication systems are down.
  • No jitter – Real-time voice and video don’t tolerate variable delay, which is why they were the last applications to be virtualized. Even today, many network and UC applications run on black or gray boxes.
  • Security -- The perception that open source is less secure than commercial software persists.
  • Complexity -- Router and PBX software has millions of lines of code and thousands of features. Look how long it took Cisco to make an IP phone system that could compete against a traditional PBX!
This is all changing as cloud providers and digital enterprises adopt open source-first strategies and UC and networking becomes truly software-based and free from the shackles of proprietary hardware. In an all-software world, communications gets embedded directly into applications so you don’t have to leave your business application to place a call or launch a video chat. Network switches and routers, along with the communications applications, can be highly distributed without a single point of failure. This helps overcome the high-availability challenges of traditional monolithic, proprietary, and expense solutions.
So open source’s impact on the UC and network markets will be:
  1. Additional vendors -- The barrier to entry will drop as new vendors and cloud service providers leverage open source -- for as much as 90% of their offerings -- and then add their value-add capabilities on top.
  2. Lower margins -- Even enterprises that are laggards in technology adoption can leverage the open source ecosystem as a bargaining chip.
  3. Faster evolution -- An all-software market means we’ll see providers adding features more quickly than ever to support the always-on-and-interacting digital world.
  4. More secure -- Every week, I read about security patches for closing backdoors or vulnerabilities in today’s proprietary solutions. An open source and collaboration community identifies and fixes problems more quickly than a single vendor does.
One example of a recent networking-related open source initiative came earlier this year from flexiWAN, which introduced an open architecture and open source software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) solution. The 60 or so SD-WAN vendors in the market today already utilize a lot of open source in their products, so going completely open source is the natural evolution. SaaS providers in particular will find value in being able to embed SD-WAN into their offerings to provide end-to-end performance and security of their applications.
Another example is Amazon, with its entry into the communications market. Amazon has publicly stated its desire to get away from Oracle and other purchased software stacks. It’s been so successful at using open source that retail competitors such as Target are following in its footsteps in order to compete.
Standards groups will need to evolve too, as the focus of work changes from how technologies integrate to orchestration of a common software stack. I guess it’s time to update my coding skills and join the software revolution that’s quietly empowering more open source solutions in the networking and communications markets.