Why the Linux Foundation Is Taking Over OpenContrail


By: Michael Vizard

Juniper Networks at a NXTWORK 2017 user conference this week announced it plans to give control over the open-source implementation of its Contrail software-defined networking (SDN) platform to The Linux Foundation.

OpenContrail will move to Linux Foundation Networking, which is an arm of the foundation that will focus primarily on networking technologies, say Juniper officials. This follows a long tradition of the Linux Foundation taking over many major projects in the open networking movement. Some of the projects that have started in other organizations and have been handed over to the Linux Foundation include OpenFlow, via the merger with the Open Network Foundation (ONF), and the Open Network Automation Platform, a carrier automation platform started by carriers including AT&T and China Mobile.

Handing it over to Linux 'Artists'

Even as Open Contrail gets transitioned to the The Linux Foundation, Juniper doesn't expect that all of the networking code base will be adopted, according to Randy Bias, vice president of technology and strategy for Juniper Networks. Bias says he does expect there will be a fair amount of cross pollination between various open-source networking projects.

"That's what great artists do," says Bias. "They steal from one another."

Juniper's OpenContrail focus has primarily been on complementing the OpenStack framework as part of an effort to drive cloud native applications. But Bias noted Juniper Networks has also become a big fan of Kubernetes, the cloud orchestration engine for containers overseen by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), another arm of The Linux Foundation.

Longer term, Bias says Juniper Networks hopes there will be multiple versions of OpenContrail that wind up being curated by different vendors. In addition, Bias says Juniper Networks expects there to be more instances of platform vendors such as Red Hat embracing Open Contrail.

Potential for Hybrid Clouds

What's the upside to shipping OpenContrail to the Linux Foundation? Once OpenContrail becomes an official Linux Foundation project, Juniper hopes that it will expand credibility of the platform so that more IT organizations can embrace it to drive open-source developments. One of OpenContrail's strengths is that it provides programmable networking capabilities using either a physical network or network overlay.

Juniper is also looking to turn OpenContrail into more of a hybrid cloud tool, to orchestrate the networking of workloads between clouds. Juniper's Bias points out that the nuance between SDNs and network virtualization software are essentially now moot. He says organizations can build and maintain hybrid clouds spanning instances of OpenContrail, regardless of whether they are being deployed on a public cloud and in on-premises environments running, for example, VMware (VMW) virtual machines.

But Juniper still has many challenges ahead, and it's not clear whether giving its SDN crown jewel to the Linux Foundation can be seen as a grand success or an admission of failure. So far, the leaders of the pack are driving virtualization with largely proprietary platforms. It remains to be seen just how open-source networking offerings will be able to usurp either Cisco or VMware's rival NSX platform.

Thus far adoption of open-source networking in enterprise IT environments has been limited. In contrast, most cloud service providers rely heavily on open-source software up and down their entire stack. What is clear is that the Linux Foundation is now gearing up to lend the weight of its considerable membership to renew the contest.