Open Source Is Taking Over Networks, Startups Lead The Way

Innovating in the networking world is hard. With purpose-built boxes, protocols, technologies, legacy, processes… But when industry veterans from the likes of Apple, Juniper and Big Switch start up fresh and think outside the box – that’s when networks get shaken up. Just see the updates from the last couple of weeks:

After building the complex networks for iCloud, Apple engineering veterans decided to leverage their experience and last week launched their new startup SnapRoute. SnapRoute promises to bring a “developer friendly and operations focused network protocol stack that runs on all commoditized network and hardware with any Linux operating system”. This open stack will remove the dependency in the software provided by the vendors providing the network equipment (such as routers and switches) and will enable innovation decoupled from the vendor.

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SnapRoute’s first open source project is its FlexSwitch, which it contributed to the Facebook-founded Open Compute Project. FlexSwitch will also be offered as an option for the OpenSwitch operating system. OpenSwitch is an open source, Linux-based network operating system designed to power enterprise grade switches from multiple hardware vendors that will enable organizations to rapidly build data center networks that are customized for unique business needs. Earlier this month OpenSwitch got accepted to the Linux Foundation, which will surely facilitate and boost its open source community activity.

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Another promising startup, which made headlines recently following Google’s investment, is Barefoot Networks, which brings the vision of programmable networks. Their innovative switch chips can be programmed using the P4 language to run various network tasks to replace today’s purpose-built networking equipment. Interesting to note that both Barefoot Networks and P4.org are also members at the OpenSwitch project.

Apstra is another interesting startup that was launched last week and was founded by networking veterans from Big SwitchArista and Juniper, which offers data center network automation. It employs an intent-driven approach for network operations, and treats the network using the methodologies of distributed systems:

“You need to recognize that your network is a distributed system. This allows you to operate your network as a system”

To be fair, startups are not alone in this front. Check out what GoogleFacebook and Amazon have been doing in their data centers. Together, startups, big players and open communities push the traditional networking world to the modern era.

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Programmable Networks – Is The Dream Finally Coming True?

One of the hottest trends in the Telecommunications industry is Software Defined Networking (SDN), the idea that you can control the logic of the data flow dynamically using central programmable logic, instead of having it hard-coded into every individual networking “box”.

Stanford Prof. Nick McKeown, one of the guys who invented SDN, and a serial entrepreneur in networking technology startups, now brings the next transformation: programmable switching chips. While in today’s networks special-purpose chips are used which are hard-wired to run specific protocols, the new switch chips can be programmed so that they could perform different functions such as firewall and load balancing, which currently require specialized networking equipment.

McKeown’s new startup Barefoot Network just completed its series C funding round with $57 million from Google (Alphabet) and Goldman Sachs. Google’s interest isn’t surprising as Google has been exploring next-generation networking for a while, and even earlier this year joined the Open Compute Project (in which Goldman Sachs is also a member).

The chips will be programmed by P4, a language for protocol-independent data packet forwarding. P4 is backed by a large open consortium of industry leaders, including tier-1 Telcos AT&T and Huawei, leading manufacturers such as Intel, Cisco and Juniper, and even software giant Microsoft. Reportedly the new chip can reach up to up to 6.5Tbps (terabits per second)—double the speed of the fastest comparable technology on the market, which is critical in making the new chips realistic for the high-performance standards of Telecom.

The vision of Software Defined Networking and that of programmable switching chips is basically one. As Barefoot puts it:

We envision a world where programmable networks outperform fixed-function networks. We believe that programming the network should be as easy to program as a server.

That’s a vision worth pursuing. And it may just about to come true.

You can read more on the latest announcement on this comprehensive coverage by the Wall Street Journal.

For a more technical deep-dive, download Barefoot’s whitepaper here.

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Prometheus Joins Google’s Kubernetes In Cloud Native Computing Foundation

Last August the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) was founded by important names such as Google, CoreOS, Docker, Weaveworks, Mesosphere and others, and was hosted under the Linux Foundation. The first contribution to CNCF was Kubernetes, which Google open-sourced for that end, and served as the cornerstone of CNCF’s open source stack.

Last week CNCF accepted its second project: Prometheus. Prometheus is a monitoring and alerting toolkit backed by a powerful time series database. Such monitoring and alerting is an important part of any large-scale system, which a cloud-native reference architecture needs to address. Kubernetes and Prometheus already play well together, as Kubernetes exposes Prometheus metrics natively. Nonetheless, Prometheus supports many other monitoring targets and service discovery integrations, from Graphite and Consul to simple SNMP and JMX that enable open-ended and custom integrations.

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Unlike Kubernetes at the time, Prometheus is already open source and backed by an active community. Among the impressive users of Prometheus you’d find several members of CNCF such as Google, CoreOS, Docker and Weaveworks, which probably made its acceptance easier. In its announcement Prometheus team said:

By joining the CNCF, we hope to establish a clear and sustainable project governance model, as well as benefit from the resources, infrastructure, and advice that the independent foundation provides to its members.

Another candidate to join CNCF is Data Center Operating System (DC/OS), which was open-sourced by Mesosphere last month. Seeing that Mesosphere is a founding member of CNCF, it’s reasonable to estimate they’d host DC/OS there. With an active community of more than 60 partner companies, this could be a serious tail wind for the foundation.

So who’s next in line for Cloud Native Computing Foundation?

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Can Hybrid Cloud Present An Alternative To Amazon, Microsoft, Google?

It’s not easy to be a public cloud vendor these days. The public cloud world has been undergoing serious consolidation in the past few years. Amazon, the pioneer of the cloud, has been keeping a clear lead, while Microsoft and Google have been pulling in, utilizing their accumulated experience, global data centers and software platforms, and positioned themselves as next in line. Together this trio serve the vast majority of the workloads running on public cloud.

This consolidation drove out many vendors, including some big incumbent names such as HP that shut down its cloud late last year and Verizon that did the same a couple of months ago.

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So what’s their answer? I’d say it’s threefold:

  1. Multi-cloud model: If you can’t beat them, join them. Support Amazon, Microsoft, Google public clouds. If done via a good generic platform, it can help avoid vendor lock-in.
  2. Hybrid model: mix the public cloud support with support for private cloud and bare-metal to offer public-private-hosted hybrid approach.
  3. Private model: concentrate on strictly private cloud. The popular open-source project OpenStack is a leading candidate for this strategy. This approach is useful for the customers insisting to run things on their own premises.

HP (now HPE), after shutting down its public cloud, moved to a hybrid cloud strategy with a series of acquisitions and by endorsing OpenStack private cloud open source project.  Verizon went for the private cloud approach.

An interesting case is Rackspace, which eased off on its own cloud and managed services, and started offering third-party support for the public clouds of Amazon and Microsoft, leveraging its Fanatical Support brand. Also, in parallel to supporting leading public cloud vendors, Rackspace keeps its longstanding support of private cloud deployments based on OpenStack, the popular open-source platform which it co-founded.

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Rackspace’s strategy seems to have hit well. quarterly results published this week show quarterly revenue $518 million, up 7.9% from the year-ago-quarter. Executives noted Rackspace’s success was buoyed particularly by a growing number of Fanatical Support customers for its Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS) offerings as well as customers on its OpenStack private cloud.

Hybrid cloud strategies gain traction with enterprises. While Amazon, Microsoft and Google try to convince enterprises to go all-in on the public cloud, it’s too big a change to swallow for most. Even Microsoft realized that hurdle and tried bringing its Azure cloud to the enterprise’s datacenter. Hybrid cloud seems to have demand, and may also be the focus of those who failed to take the lead in the public cloud.

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The Mysterious Creator Of Bitcoin and Blockchain Comes Out Of The Shadows

The birth of the virtual currency Bitcoin was accompanied with great mystery, when its creator chose to remain in the shadows, known only by his (or her?) pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. Rumors over the years brought up various potential “suspects”, but nothing was proven and no one confessed. Until now.

Today Dr. Craig Wright, a 45-year-old computer scientist from Australia, announced that he is Satoshi Nakamoto. In his post Wright says

If I sign Craig Wright, it is not the same as if I sign Craig Wright, Satoshi.

Wright then goes on to thank those who supported the project. Something that has started from a monumental paper by the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto, followed by a release of an even more monumental implementation of Blockchain, the revolutionary technology for open distributed ledger underlying Bitcoin. In fact, the impact of Blockchain currently seems to surmount that of bitcoin, with blockchain-based innovation boiling up in both startups and financial institutions. The interest is so great (and skill set is so rare) that IBM and Microsoft launched Blockchain-as-a-Service offerings on their clouds to help companies innovate with Blockchain.

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Wright dedicated most of his post to convincing the community of the authenticity of his claim. He provides a signed evidence, supposedly signed with a private key associated with Satoshi Nakamoto (the key for block 9), and elaborates on the process of verifying cryptographic keys, basically implying on the verification of his own evidence.

Wright knew such announcement would not go about without a storm, so he summoned in advance three high-profile magazines – The Economist, The BBC and GQ Magazine – to exclusively present his claim and evidence so they can accompany his post with their own coverage. The magazines jumped on the scoop and dag deep into his claims. You can read their full review here:

The Economist: Craig Steven Wright claims to be Satoshi Nakamoto. Is he?

The BBC: Australian Craig Wright claims to be Bitcoin creator

GQ Magazine: Dr Craig Wright Outs Himself As Bitcoin Creator Satoshi Nakamoto

Is Dr. Wright the real Satoshi Nakamoto? The community will be debating that in the weeks to come, together with further evidence released by Wright. More importantly, Wright hints of new work he’s done in this field with “an exceptional group”. It may very well be that his current announcement just sets the stage for bigger announcements or releases yet to come.

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Mesosphere Open-Sources Its Containers Management System

The containers movement received major news yesterday when Mesosphere announced it has open-sourced  its Data Center Operating System (DC/OS). The core will be released under Apache 2.0 open source license, with enterprise-grade tools and features such as security, performance, compliance, and monitoring, kept for the paid enterprise version. The new DC/OS community already has more than 60 partner companies, including major names such as Microsoft, HPE, Cisco, Accenture and Verizon. There are also important names from the DevOps automation including Chef and Puppet.

Mesosphere’s open source strategy is primarily rooted in the fact it is the commercial backer of Apache Mesos open source project. But Mesosphere took additional steps and joined the founding team of the Open Container Initiative (OCI) and the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) which were founded in the past year by big names such as Google, Microsoft, IBM and HPE to standardize on containers. In fact, on its announcement yesterday Mesosphere said it was considering hosting DC/OS externally under CNCF (among other alternatives).

Mesosphere’s open source move yesterday comes a month after Mesosphere joined the prestigious unicorn club when it finished its round C funding with $73.5 million funding at reportedly over $1 billion valuation. Not surprisingly, Mesosphere’s investors Microsoft and HPE, which also collaborate with Mesosphere at the Open Container Initiative, joined as founding members to the DC/OS project. In fact, Microsoft announced yesterday adding support for DC/OS in its Azure cloud, after it added support for Docker on Azure a year ago. This is part of the fierce cloud competition on containers (so fierce that it drove HP out of the race last year).

Google, a competitor of Microsoft in the public cloud, used a similar open source strategy last year when it decided to open-source its Kubernetes container management system and contribute it to CNCF on its foundation. Kubernetes powers Google’s Container Engine, Google’s own response in the cloud wars. While some consider Kubernetes a competitor for Mesosphere, Mesosphere took a collaborative strategy, providing support (namely package) for Kubernetes alongside its own Marathon product, as well as contributing code to the Kubernetes open source project.

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IBM, Microsoft Offer Blockchain In Their Cloud Services

Recently blockchain fans got major news, with two giants IBM and Microsoft announcing their support for Blockchain-as-a-Service (BaaS) in their cloud services. Are we going to see some cloud-based blockchain developments soon? sounds like it.

Blockchain emerged from Bitcoin cryptocurrency hype as the innovative distributed ledger technology behind Bitcoin. But while cryptocurrencies are well past Gartner’s peak of inflated expectations, blockchain is gaining growing interest from startups and enterprises alike. The interest in blockchain isn’t limited to just cryptocurrencies but also extends into other financial use cases, and even transcends FinTech realm into non-financial use cases such as electronic voting, smart contracts and ownership verification for art and diamonds.

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The interest that blockchain drove the creation of different “flavors” of the distributed ledger notion, beyond the initial one used for Bitcoin. One interesting initiative recently launched is the hyperledger project, a community-backed open-source standard for distributed ledger. It was launched December 2015 under the Linux Foundation by big financial services names such as J.P. Morgan, Wells Fargo, London Stock Exchange Group and Deutsche Börse, as well as equally big IT players such as IBM, Intel, Cisco and VMware. As part of joining Hyperledger, IBM has open sourced a significant chunk of the blockchain code it has been working on.

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IBM launched its blockchain-as-a-service in production February. In order to encourage adoption of its new cloud service, IBM also opens garages for blockchain app design and implementation in London, New York, Singapore and Tokyo.

Microsoft was first to move in on blockchain. Last November ETH-BaaSMicrosoft launched a Blockchain-as-a-Service on its Azure cloud based on Ethereum in partnership with ConsenSys. But while IBM bet on hyperledger project, Microsoft took a different approach and spread its bet across multiple projects and partnerships. During last month Microsoft added to its blockchain partnerships Augur, Lisk, BitShares, Syscoin and Slock.it, and this month also added Storj.

I estimate IBM and Microsoft would not remain alone in this game. Other vendors will join in to offer platforms and cloud services to accelerate the development of blockchain-based applications. This will be a serious enabler for innovation around this fascinating technology, whether for young innovative startups bootstrapping on low budget, or for financial institutions (and other enterprises) lacking in-house skills in this cutting-edge technology.

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