Patrick Chang

8 December 2020

7 min read


Q&A: Open source on the edge

By Andrew Randall

6 min read

The race is on to build software faster than ever, and open source is equipping organizations for speed. Using open source code to build cloud-native applications is now considered essential for modern application development. Rather than writing entirely new code to build applications, developers use open source as their foundation.

Millions of developers worldwide have joined the growing open source movement. In its 2019 State of the Octoverse report, GitHub revealed that of the more than 40 million developers on GitHub, 10 million new users joined in 2019. And a recent report by Synopsys revealed that 99 percent of the codebases audited over the past year contain at least one open source component, with open source comprising 70 percent of code used overall.

There are several advantages to using open source code, as large numbers of developers regularly test and improve the quality of a project. Those developers can write and update documents, expose privacy or security issues, and improve source code to meet the latest app development standards.

But it’s not just the big cloud players and those who rely on them that are taking advantage of open source applications. Companies in the telecom sector are embracing network automation tools to help them capitalize on the power of 5G and edge computing. This includes using open source software to automate network functions and replace proprietary solutions with open standards.

While cloud-native application development drives business agility, IT executives worry about both losing control and ensuring data security and privacy. But edge computing enables companies to more securely manage data closer to the source. Today, as 5G accelerates data transfer and communications, edge computing is poised to overtake cloud computing.

As a result, telecom operators are increasingly deploying edge and 5G solutions for their network locations. They adopt virtualization, for example, to enable the use of off-the-shelf hardware. Standard APIs and open source software are the next wave to this shift toward further reducing vendor lock-in.

Telecom companies may face some challenges when using open source software, however, such as fragmentation from too many overlapping projects, lack of standards for governance, and inconsistent tools for project management.

“Being actively involved in open source projects provides us with the opportunity to influence the future technological direction of the Telecom industry, and ensure that our products are compatible with the latest standards.” — Ranny Haiby, Director of Open Source Projects, Samsung Research America
Open source for telcos

Telecom operators often cite speed and efficiency as their reasons for adopting open source software. Open source solutions help them to innovate faster, deliver new functionality more frequently, identify and resolve issues more quickly, improve transaction processing, bolster security, and streamline system integration.

Many telecom companies rely on open source code from organizations such as The Linux Foundation, Open Networking Automation Platform, and Cloud Native Computing Foundation. These solutions are trusted because the developers working on them often have deep experience collaborating on telecom projects.

One example of how telecoms and their software partners are deploying open source is the use of Network Function Virtualization (NFV) software, which replaces the need for expensive hardware to run proprietary networking applications. NFV decouples hardware from software, and in some cases, such as with software-based routers, it replaces proprietary hardware entirely. Once separated from hardware, network functions can run on virtual machines, containers, and microservices.

Telcos can also build their own proprietary solutions with open source software as a foundation. Using an “open core” business model can help telecoms and software vendors quickly and economically develop and deploy their own customized software solutions. For example, both Openstack, which was developed by Mirantis, and Redhat Openshift monetize open core solutions.

Another company that has developed an open core and services solution is SignalWire, a portfolio company of Samsung Next. SignalWire’s FreeSWITCH is an open source software platform that turns any computer into a telecommunications switch, much like Apache turns a computer into a web server. SignalWire’s enterprise SaaS solution is built on this open source foundation.

Samsung and open source

Here at Samsung, we embrace open source and actively contribute to open source projects. Our company recognizes the potential for collaborating with customers to build software that complements existing hardware. For that reason, Samsung established a dedicated team to engage in projects with the open source community, track industry trends, and develop new products.

“Through the open source collaboration, we get direct insight into what Communications Service Providers (CSPs) are looking for in building their future networks,” says Ranny Haiby, director of Open Source Projects at Samsung Research America (SRA) and is actively involved with open source organizations. “Being actively involved in open source projects provides us with the opportunity to influence the future technological direction of the Telecom industry, and ensure that our products are compatible with the latest standards.”

Samsung has, for example, been a leader in the security hardening of Open Networking Automation Platform (ONAP) open source solutions. Samsung developers have helped with security testing that exposed vulnerabilities, which led to contributing software patches and tightening the project’s security standards.

Samsung also has worked with the Telecom User Group at the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF). In addition to developing source code, Samsung developers have contributed by creating architecture; and by writing tutorials, guides, and other documentation. By participating in these projects, Samsung gains an understanding of the unique challenges involved with transforming cloud-native technology to the edge.

Investing in open source startups

In addition to working with the development community, Samsung Next invests in early-stage startups that use open source as the foundation for products focused on edge computing. Open source and developer-first go-to-market initiatives help level the playing field for small companies, which often face stiff competition from larger firms.

We believe there is significant opportunity in the space. The shift to the cloud is still in its infancy, and many promising companies are being created to pursue innovative new ideas. Enterprise IT and global infrastructure, in particular, is a multi-trillion dollar market, and open source projects will drive a lot of this value creation.

There is a great opportunity for open source projects addressing the technical challenges of microservices — such as virtualization, automation, orchestration, analytics, deployment, and security. I also believe in orchestrating and managing workloads across clouds and on-premises.

Samsung Next has been investing in open source companies for several years. As part of Samsung, we sit at the intersection point between telco providers, equipment vendors, chip manufacturers, cloud vendors, and software providers. By leveraging Samsung’s strength in 5G, we have early insights that can help entrepreneurs find a clear fit within the telecom industry.

We are early investors and are eager to support projects that may have found one of three key areas of open source: project/community fit, product-market fit (active users), or commercialization (customers/revenue).

We love to invest in founders and champions of open source projects. That’s because the creators of open source projects tend to have built large communities of followers, which gives them ongoing influence. Creators also have great clout in terms of hiring and attracting the people who have the best understanding of their open source projects.

We aren't afraid to back early companies pre-revenue, and we’re patient with open source investments because we understand the importance and value of building a community in this space. We know monetization can be one of the most difficult things to get right in open source, and we're committed to helping young companies commercialize promising new solutions.

For example, one of Samsung Next’s pre-seed portfolio companies, Edgeworx, built ioFog. This open source platform provides a flexible, secure, and manageable way for organizations operating edge devices to seamlessly collect and analyze data from their operations.

Another investment is in Tetrate, which has developed an enterprise-ready service mesh using open source software. Service mesh is the enabling infrastructure for modern applications that are increasingly broken down into a network of services each performing a specific business function.

Samsung NEXT is actively seeking investment opportunities in startups that are developing open source projects addressing the technical challenges of microservices (e.g., virtualization, automation, orchestration, analytics, deployment management, and security). We have a focused interest in the enterprise edge and network edge, but open to opportunities for device edge. We would love to see how we can be helpful to you as you build your community and project.

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