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How do I choose between open source and commercial SDN?

Commercial SDN offers vendor-backed support, while open source platforms can be upgraded more quickly. Whether an enterprise chooses one over the other depends on its preferences.

With open source and commercial SDN options readily available, enterprises have to outline the key considerations between the two in order to determine the best choice.

When software-defined networking started to take a foothold in enterprise IT, commercial vendors were caught off guard. The whole idea of SDN is software controls all facets of the data center network from a centralized control plane, the SDN controller. This includes routing, switching, wireless, and various network-based security and load-balancing tools. Because commercial vendors created proprietary, closed-source software, they couldn't achieve the true end-to-end management and visibility that open source alternatives provided out of the gate.

In the end, there's no right or wrong answer to commercial SDN vs. open source options. It all boils down to what your organization values more.

It didn't take long, however, for commercial vendors to begin using APIs to allow integration of their product lines with nonproprietary network components. By providing the necessary hooks into network software, APIs allow compatibility that resembles open source platforms, while still maintaining control over the underlying source code. So, in a sense, vendors using APIs have largely eroded the primary benefit of using open source SDN platforms over the past few years. Additionally, enterprise customers can expect superior levels of support when choosing a commercial SDN option.

That said, the other benefit of open source SDN options is the speed with which the software and SDN applications can evolve over time, which makes it flexible. Open source projects tend to roll out new features and capabilities more quickly. With a commercial SDN offering, however, you're stuck with the vendor's vision and timing in terms of when new features are released.

The key decision point your organization needs to consider in 2018 is whether it would benefit more from the superior support of a commercial SDN platform versus rapid open source software feature releases. In the end, there's no right or wrong answer to commercial SDN vs. open source options. It all boils down to what your organization values more.

This was last published in May 2018

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What challenges has your organization faced when implementing open source SDN components?