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How Juniper is moving to an open-source mindset


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Last year, a few months after Juniper Networks moved OpenContrail under the auspices of the Linux Foundation, it renamed the open-source software-defined network (SDN) program Tungsten Fabric. The move was more than just a rebranding — it signaled a shift under way at Juniper, from “being a consumer of open source to a provider of open source,” according to Randy Bias, Juniper Networks’ VP of Technology and Open Source Software. 

Bias, well known in the cloud computing world, joined Juniper in 2016, two years after EMC acquired his OpenStack startup Cloudscaling. While he doesn’t consider himself an open-source ideologue, Bias told ZDNet that thanks to his background, “It was clear Juniper needed help understanding what it meant bringing open-source products to market.”

Juniper is embracing open source technologies as its customers look for the product standardization and interoperability they need to scale their operations, Bias said. The networking company contributes to open source projects like OpenStack, Ansible, Salt, PyEZ, wistar and is still the major driver of the code for Tungsten Fabric. It’s also working on a new, open-source-based platform called ATOM.

It’s a process, however, that’s come with some major cultural and organizational shifts.

For one thing, Bias said, companies like Juniper and EMC have to overcome the mentality that contributing to open source projects amounts to “giving away for free” their heavy-duty IP. Embracing a new, pro-open source mindset, he said, requires executive buy-in, recruiting middle managers who understand the strategy and creating the right business models to support it.

At Juniper, getting the “movers and shakers” on board, including CEO Rami Rahim and CTO Bikash Koley, hasn’t been hard, Bias said.

“They’re smart folks, they’re talking to customers and hearing feedback,” he said. “They know the sea change is happening.”

Getting rank-and-file engineers on board is fairly simple as well, he said. They see where the industry is headed. For any large organization, this kind of cultural shift can face the most resistance from the layer of middle managers accustomed to certain business models, pricing and compensation structures.

“You need to bring in fresh blood,” Bias said, noting that Juniper is bringing in more people from Google lately. “Just like you want a diversity of people in your business, you want a diversity of points of view on thing like open source.”

Juniper is also working to change its incentive structure, Bias said, looking to Google’s OKR system for inspiration. The system uses objectives and key results (OKRs) to better align employees’ compensation with the company’s goals.


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    As it implements these organizational changes, Juniper is also working on a single, unified, open-source software platform for analytics, telemetry, orchestration and management (ATOM). The Kubernetes-based platform will make adopting new software “as easy as pushing a button,” Bias said.

  • There’s no timeline for the release of the platform, Bias said. Juniper is in the early stages of determining how the platform will interact with its software, and Bias said, they’re still in the process of “drawing a line around which parts need to be open sourced.”

    That’s left the company in a sort of “chicken-egg problem,” Bias said — they need a certain amount of code to be written before they can open source it. At the same time, he said, “When you’re doing open source development, you don’t get to do it in a vacuum.”

    It’s a process that can be challenging to navigate as Juniper undergoes its broader shift to supporting open source.

    “It’s hard to say the ship is turned until it’s actually turned,” Bias said. “I think it’s one of those things that will flip very quickly when it actually happens.”



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