Open networks: Should they be interoperable or proprietary?


3 September 2014
CK Lam of Brocade

The networking industry has seen a long-standing debate between two schools of thought on whether networks of the future should take an open or proprietary approach. Many will say that the debate is over and that most customers want open standards. This has been largely acknowledged by many networking vendors, as they promote their affiliations to several open communities with none stating that closed networks are the future.

However, the debate has become more complex lately - it’s now between being open-and-fully-interoperable versus ostensibly-open-but-proprietary.

To summarise, taking an open approach to networking means that, when aligning their infrastructure strategy with business needs, organisations should have the ability to choose which particular solutions meet their specific needs, regardless of vendor. For this “best-in-class” approach to work, technologies should not only be based on open standards but also be interoperable with each other. This gives organisations the chance to bring in specific products and components in light of their ever-changing business needs. 

At the other end of the spectrum, the open-but-proprietary approach requires that organisations stick to one equipment provider. While this has its own advantages, most organisations’ core IT infrastructures face growing demands with innovations that significantly change how networks are deployed, configured, and controlled. As a result, this relatively closed approach has become increasingly outdated and restrictive rather than efficient.

Most vendors today believe that networks should be open and interoperable, based on the following reasons:

  1. Increasing complexity: Organisations want the freedom to design their own unique infrastructure for meeting both current and future requirements. It is no longer feasible to rely on a single vendor to deliver an end-to-end solution that fits every organisation’s requirements for service agility and scalability.
  2. Security: Every organisation has fears of cyber attacks and many still believe that, in order to defend themselves, a closed, proprietary network is necessary. However, this approach also makes them vulnerable and does not give them access to experienced virus protection and security vendors. In contrast, an open network enables organisations to utilize the best security expertise and solutions for handling the widest range of security threats.
  3. The rise of BYOD: Employees today are tech-savvy information consumers. Managers are also tracking data through mobile devices and network monitoring tools. In today’s BYOD environment, information access can only be done through an open and fully interoperable network. Open but proprietary networks are unable to deliver the right information to the right people in today’s dynamic business environment.
  4. Software-Defined Networking (SDN): As the industry moves toward SDN, where administrators manage networks by abstracting lower-level functions, it is even more important for those networks to remain open to help ensure greater productivity and efficiency.

Moving forward, the debate between interoperability and proprietary will likely continue, with most organisations starting to see greater freedom to choose the approach that caters best for their needs. The need for greater business agility means that flexibility and control will be more important than ever. And, in the long-haul, true openness promises to provide many advantages over proprietary offerings.

That said, organisations should not rush to deploy open, interoperable architectures simply because they do not want to be late to the party. Ultimately, they should focus on openness as a smart way to build efficient, cost-effective solutions that enhance end-user productivity throughout the organisation - and beyond.