juniper network gear Juniper Networks

OpenContrail SDN Moves to Linux Foundation as Tungsten Fabric

This move is intended to expand the open source SDN developer community to bring about quicker development and to attract new users.

Back in December networking company Juniper announced it was handing its open source software-defined networking project, OpenContrail, to the Linux Foundation. On March 27, the foundation announced that the deed is now officially done. OpenContrail is now an official project of the foundation under a new name, Tungsten Fabric, with a new release planned for May. Juniper will be keeping the name Contrail for it's proprietary version, which will continue to be based on the open source project.

The most apparent difference this brings short term is that the project will no longer seem to be under the control of Juniper, but as a completely community guided effort. This doesn't mean the company doesn't still have input, however. Randy Bias, Juniper's cloud software VP of technology and strategy, instrumental in bringing the project to the Linux Foundation, is on the Technical Advisory Committee for Linux Foundation Networking (LFN), and Juniper still has over 100 developers contributing code to the project.

Tungsten Fabric is a scalable network virtualization control plane providing feature-rich SDN with strong security. Used by the OpenStack cloud builder Mirantis, Ubuntu, and the manufacturer Gencore, it simplifies operational complexities and automates workload management across cloud environments, including multicloud. It was made open source as OpenContrail by Juniper a year after they purchased the project in 2012, and is the base for Contrail, the company's value added proprietary offering.

Juniper didn't have much luck running OpenContrail as an open source project, mainly because it didn't have open source experience. It hired Bias, who had open source experience as a founding member and former director of the OpenStack Foundation, in 2016, but it wasn't until AT&T, one of the project's two major backers, last year threatened to leave the project due to a lack of community that it got serious about turning things around.

"If I were to dial it into what the biggest problem was I would say it was transparency," Bias told Data Center Knowledge about the situation he inherited. "It's not that Juniper didn't care, it's not that Juniper didn't want to grow the community, it's that the number of people inside the business who had experience building, running, operating open source projects was pretty minimal."

Last year Bias brought Greg Elkinbard, who had been doing OpenStack work for Mirantis, on board as director of OpenContrail community.

"We just needed some more bench power to basically help with what does a healthy open source community look like," Bias explained. "What have we done right? What have we done wrong? How do we delve down on the stuff that we did right while also fixing the stuff that we did wrong?

"Honestly, the Contrail team itself, the engineering team and product team, has responded really, really well to the guidance of myself and others with that [open source] DNA. They've done some really amazing things in that regard to help this process of rebooting the community. I'm pretty happy with where we got to over the last nine months."

Now that Tungsten Fabric has been successfully moved to the Linux Foundation, Bias and the project's community are working with Linux Foundation Networking to move the project under its umbrella. LFN was originally formed to eventually become to open source networking what CNCF is to containers and the cloud native ecosphere. Tungsten's closest open source competitor, OpenDaylight, is already part of LFN, and when OpenContrail's pending move to the Linux Foundation was first made public, several media pundits opined that the two projects might eventually be rolled into one.

Juniper also seems to have learned a lesson or two about how to do business in an open source environment, as the company seems to understand the need for the free and open source Tungsten Fabric to greatly increase its number of users, in the hopes of turning some into paying customers of its proprietary version.

"In that way of thinking about the world, Juniper sees itself moving from a position where it's 90 percent of a relatively small total addressable market to maybe having 10 percent of a much, much larger total addressable market," Bias said.

When asked where he expected Tungsten Fabric to be at this time next year, he replied, "From a technology perspective, I think the big things that are going to change is that it's gonna be even easier to deploy Tungsten, it'll be easier to contribute to Tungsten, and there will be a lot more significant work around security in particular for Tungsten. I think those are the three big things."

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