A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes.
In the 1998 movie The Big Lebowski, Jeff Bridges’ character, The Dude, laments the destruction of his favorite rug by repeatedly stating, “That rug really tied the room together.” In homage to The Dude’s sentiment, tech startup Akanda Virtual Networking named its open source project The Rug because it “ties together” OpenStack networks by managing orchestration, routing and other key network services.
According to Peter Christy, Research Director of Networks at 451 Research, “Akanda isn't the first open source network option for OpenStack, but its layer 2 agnostic approach, combined with Akanda's interfaces to network-dependent OpenStack projects such as Ceilometer and Horizon, give it a leg up when compared with self-contained 'black box' competitive approaches.”
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Although a startup, Akanda is battle-tested, having recently been spun out of DreamHost after proving its scalability in a real-world operating environment. DreamHost has a successful track record of incubating technologies in-house and then releasing them to the broader market. In 2012 the company rolled out Inktank, an innovative open source storage solution based on Ceph’s distributed file system, which was subsequently sold to Red Hat for $175 million. (Note: I am an investor in Akanda via Rincon Venture Partners.)
Eating The World – All Over Again
To update Marc Andreessen’s widely publicized quote from 2011, “OpenStack Software Defined Networks (SDNs) are eating the world.” This may sound like hyperbole to anyone who has followed the evolution of the SDN world, as the initial generation SDN promoters made pronouncements they couldn’t deliver upon. True to form, Industry Analysts fueled the technology hype. For instance, in 2000 Gartner created the term Supranet to describe how software would connect disparate hardware – proclaiming the advent of the Internet Of Things a decade and a half too early.
Like their analyst brethren, the SDN pioneers weren’t wrong, they were just a bit too enthusiastic. Their attempts to architect software automation for physical networks were a bridge too far. The latest wave of SDN innovators have realized that that they must provide integrated management of physical and virtual networks and adapt to the open source architectures of clouds.
The More Things Change…
The evolution of software from proprietary to open is an established technology pattern. In the mid 1960’s, large mainframe manufacturers, such as IBM, Burroughs and Honeywell, provided complete IT solutions. IBM might not have offered the best printers, but buyers had no choice because early mainframe vendors provided a closed set of proprietary technologies. Twenty years later, merchant CPUs like Intel’s 286 processor successfully disaggregated computer hardware from software and hardware became increasingly interchangeable.
Open Source software has a long history, going back to the early hacker communities. By the early 1970’s, software became more lucrative and more expensive to create, which led to user-created, free software being supplanted by a new wave of commercial software companies. The dawn of personal computers by home hobbyists created the perfect environment for software sharing, yet it was young Bill Gates who convinced that nascent market that software development costs money and needed to be purchased, just like hardware.
The release of Linux in 1991 led to a resurgence of Open Sourcing that was embraced by a new generation of software developers aiming to disrupt the legacy, proprietary software market. By the early 2000’s, it was clear that software which could not be iterated upon and improved by its users was doomed. Even the most conservative companies began adopting the open-source LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) to dynamically create and maintain their websites.
The earliest mega-scale web services (e.g., Google) were initially based on open source elements, then refined to make it work reliably at huge scale, clearly demonstrating the relevance of open source for cloud computing. The impact that these advancements had on software development and modern application delivery created the need for the network to adapt to the cloud and ultimately the open source model as well.
Today, open-source SDN initiatives like Akanda are striving to maximize the benefits of a community-sourced solution with a business model that adequately rewards companies driving the initiative. As Akanda’s Founder and CEO, Henrik Rosendahl recently shared with me, “With open-source solutions, if you are not adding value to the community, you are missing the point. This leads companies in the open source ecosystem to encourage collaboration across traditional boundaries to the benefit of customers, operators and developers.”
Six Reasons Why The Time Is Now
Cloud Is Real – The debate is long over, as the last laggard companies embrace the benefits of distributed computing for datacenter efficiency and most software is now written to leverage the cloud’s agility.
Cloud Architecture – Most cloud projects are now built on OpenStack an open source virtualization platform. The community of development from large vendors (IBM, Cisco, HP) and startups has rallied around furthering the development of those and building solutions that operate with them.
Software Agility – Clouds are designed for frequent moves, adds and changes that can be implemented by a large number of users - requirements that only software-based solutions are agile enough to accommodate.
Functionality – Increasingly, the traffic within a cloud data center is “east/west” between virtualized workloads, rather than “north/south” to external users. The virtual networks created at the server/hypervisor layer provide a key security element, permitting only the necessary application traffic and prohibiting the rest.
Pricing – Amazon’s pricing of the infrastructure that allows third parties to build their own private clouds and the old VMware/EMC/Cisco stack is cost prohibitive.
Cloud Management – Clouds are rarely designed and managed by network architects, thus requiring that cloud network control is readily available to software developers and IT personnel via a software infrastructure they readily understand.
Akanda is the first network management software to fully tie together the disparate aspects of an OpenStack network. The fact that is a community led open source solution designed for cloud builders means that the entire ecosystem can leverage the collective learnings, share code whenever possible and fold an agile solution into existing cloud designs without any disruption.
While virtually none of the Akanda solution will ever be exposed to end-users, it will maintain the privacy of their data, keep the costs of their cloud services low and perhaps most importantly, ensure the fastest possible access to the information and entertainment they rely on cloud providers to deliver.
In addition to blinding speeds and ironclad security, the involvement of the open source community also gives Akanda’s end users assurance that, unlike The Dude, this is one Rug that won’t get pulled out from under them.
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Image credit: The Dude courtesy of Getty Images