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AlterPoint launches ZipForge, a repository for open source network configuration platform

AlterPoint has launched ZipForge, an online repository of components for its open source network configuration platform.

Network configuration management vendor AlterPoint has announced a new online exchange for ZipTie, the hybrid open source version of its product. Experts say this repository could foster innovation in network management technology.

AlterPoint has christened the exchange ZipForge, in a nod to SourceForge, a definitive source code repository where software developers manage open source projects.

"We're putting out there an exchange of network management components," said David Cramer, AlterPoint's vice president of marketing. "So if you're a network manager and you're either using the open source ZipTie product or you're an AlterPoint customer and you've bought technology from us, you can go out into this community and download actual functionality that you can plug into our product or our open source product."

ZipTie is an open source version of AlterPoint's network configuration product. ZipTie is a framework for network inventory and configuration management. AlterPoint has also formed a ZipTie Open Network Alliance (ZONA) partnership program, through which leading vendors such as Juniper and Riverbed contribute components of functionality to the ZipTie platform. ZipForge offers a space where AlterPoint developers, network vendors and end users can contribute and download these components.

"I was pretty impressed by [ZipForge]," said Charles Spurgeon, a network engineer at the University of Texas at Austin. "It's a great place to look to see something that somebody else has already done and maybe just grab the whole thing and use it intact. It's a great asset. I think it really helps to leverage the ZipTie platform. It gives you a kind of SourceForge focused on ZipTie. When people see these tools, they tend to want to use them or donate their own work. So I think it's going to be a good deal."

Unlike the rest of the IT world, the networking industry hasn't experienced as much proliferation of open source technology so far, according to Michael Coté, a software industry analyst with RedMonk.

"I think there's a lot of stuff in the networking space that is appliance-based. You can't really download a Zip file of an appliance," Coté said. "No doubt there have been plenty of [similar] initiatives, but it seems [that] this is the first commercial-backed consolidation of open source stuff [within the networking space]."

p>There are quite a few open source products available in the networking space, such as network management platform OpenNMS or GroundWork, a network monitoring tool. But full-fledged online repositories for open source network technology haven't really taken off. Coté said ZipForge gives the ZipTie community a place that they can craft to their own needs.

"For example, you could think of scenarios where one could right-click on ZipTie to install different plug-ins from ZipForge," he said. "Sure, that kind of thing is possible to enable at SourceForge, which is a relatively open system, but having your own community platform could make such scenarios easier. Overall, communities often find it helps to have control over their own platform to organize the site and the services it provides how they like."

There have been some volunteer repositories in the networking space before, led by networking professionals, but those initiatives have been short-lived, Spurgeon said. Active support for them died off over time.

"It's hard for open source projects to stay current because they tend to be a snapshot of a certain time when the guy was developing a tool, and then it just kind of languishes," he said. "With ZipForge, you get a lot more traction and active support, with old stuff plus the new stuff coming along."

Spurgeon said he hopes ZipForge will develop into a critical mass of community. ZipTie already has more than 6,000 users.

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"One of the things that's become really clear working with this stuff -- and I've been a network analyst for a couple of decades -- is that the whole space that networking involves is steadily getting more and more complex," he said. "And interestingly enough, vendors have a certain vendor myopia. They have a product they sell. They understand it really well. They develop tools for it. But they don't see the big picture. They don't sit where the customer sits. My hope is, with a community involved with all these customers working with these vendors, we can start to develop the kinds of tools it takes to do the job."

Coté said he saw this potential as well. In theory, something like ZipForge could encourage network hardware vendors to produce more open systems and allow for more innovation, driven by users and vendors alike.

"The more open you have systems, whether network systems or pure software or whatever, it allows you to more quickly add in new things that come along," he said. "In a closed world, you sort of have to wait on your vendors to introduce something to handle that for you."

In a more open world, Coté said, plenty of people are out there producing scripts, software components and configurations for public use.  Network professionals can just pick those up from a repository and use them.

"You get more innovation more quickly than you would if you had an oligarchy of closed vendors," he said.

Coté said ZipForge probably isn't reaching beyond ZipTie users at the moment, but the repository could create a certain amount of momentum where community members are not only adding components to the ZipTie platform but more general components of software that is reusable.

"As those things get spread out into different ecosystems or different areas that are aligned with different products or vendors or different open source communities," he said, "then you have the same effect of openness creep into those territories."

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