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Open source networking hums along, quietly

Open source has been buzzing lately: Gartner identified it as one of the top 10 trends for 2008, and last week Microsoft announced it was publishing 30,000 pages of documentation for Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista and launching an “Interoperability Initiative.” Google is pushing open applications and development of the new Android operating system, while Verizon claims to be opening its network.

In the networking industry, however, while open source adoption seems to be growing at a good clip, I don’t see much hoopla about it. So I’ll forgive you if you missed Shamus McGillicuddy’s article about the launch of ZipForge, a new website Alterpoint developed to support its ZipTie open source network configuration product. The ZipForge site provides a place where AlterPoint vendor partners can post interoperable ZipTie components that developers and users can download, review, and contribute to.

snortIt would be great to see users take advantage of this repository to consolidate other networking-specific software tools, much like a true SourceForge (from which the new site partly takes its name) for networking pros. According to the article, networking has experienced less of an upsurge in open source because the technology itself is so reliant on hardware. While that may be true in a basic sense, software is becoming far more important and familiar. There are already several open source programs that networking folks use regularly, and that list is bound to expand.

Network engineers have long used open source software to run routers, VPNs and VLANs on run-of-the mill servers. Snort, OpenNMS, Nagios and Nessus are staples in networks big and small. And the popularity of Asterisk, the open source IP telephony platform, continues to grow in leaps and bounds.asterisk

Open source is definitely a part of the network, but I think that’s how most networking pros view it — as just a part of the network. They choose it because it works well, it interoperates, or it’s cheap, and they don’t get too caught up in the idealism and spreading the word about the benefits of open source. Also, most networking pros wear so many hats that they can’t spend a lot of time thinking about one system or product. They are even less likely to use that time evangelizing or flaming posts over at Slashdot.

I recall a network administrator I met a while back at a trade show. He had installed a few Vyatta routers, and he thought they were fantastic. But he was also in the throes of rolling out Avaya IP telephony to multiple locations and installing a new supply chain automation system. So while he was happy with his open source routers, they probably weren’t the first thing on his mind. The buzz about open source in the network is there, but sometimes you have to listen hard to hear it.

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I agree that open source networking growth is on the rise. I would add that you are also seeing a rise in commercial open source software like Hyperic ( for networked application management and Zenoss ( for general IT infrastructure and network management. I concede that Nagios is a stable for many in monitoring but I suspect the ones I mentioned are being quickly added to more network engineers toolboxes.