Don't waste your time (or money) on open-source networking, says Cisco

Den Sullivan
Den Sullivan, Head of Architectures for Emerging Markets, Cisco

Despite a desire to create open and flexible networks, network managers shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that the best way to achieve this is through building an open-source network from scratch, according to Den Sullivan, Head of Architectures for Emerging Markets, Cisco.

In a phone interview with CNME, Sullivan said that, in most cases, attempting to build your own network using open-source technologies would result in more work and bigger costs.

“When you’re down there in the weeds, sticking it all together, building it yourself when you can actually go out there and buy it, I think you’re probably increasing your cost base whilst you actually think that you may be getting something cheaper,” he said.

Sullivan said he understood why network managers could be seduced by the idea of building a bespoke network from open-source technologies. However, he advised that, in practical terms, open-source networking tech was mostly limited to creating smaller programs and scripts.

“People have looked to try to do things faster, try to automate things. And with regards to scripts and small programs, they’re taking up open-source off the Web, bolting them together and ultimately coming up with a little program or script that goes and does things a little bit faster for their own particular area,” he said.

Sullivan said he hadn’t come across anyone in the Middle East creating open-source networks from scratch – and with good reason. He said that the role of IT isn’t to create something bespoke, but to align the department with the needs of the business, using whichever tools are available.

“How does the IT group align with that strategy, and then how best do they deliver it?” he asked. “Ultimately, I don’t think that is always about going and building it yourself, and stitching it all together.

“It’s almost like the application world. Say you’ve got 10,000 sales people – why would you go and build a sales tool to track their forecasting, to track their performance, to track your customer base? These things are readily available – they’re built by vendors who have got years and years of experience, so why are you going to start trying to grow your own? That’s not the role of IT as I see it today.”

Sullivan admitted that, for some businesses, stock networking tools from the big vendors did not provide enough flexibility. However, he said that a lot of the flexibility and openness that people desire could be found more easily in software-defined networking (SDN) tools, rather than open-source networking tools.

“I see people very interested in the word ‘open’ in regards to software-defined networking, but I don’t see them actually going and creating their own networks through open-source, readily available programs out there on the Internet. I do see an interest in regards to openness, flexibility, and more programmability – things like the Open Network Foundation and everything in regards to SDN,” he said.

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