What are we to make about Brocade’s intention to acquire Vyatta? It’s a big change for both. Brocade definitely has skin in the SDN game and relevant fabric offerings. Vyatta has valuable networking software assets but historically has been positioned as a “traditional” Open Source play, having created an integrated network “stack” out of Open Source bits (a valuable and non-trivial contribution) and then trying to make money with some blend of consulting and support (if you’re not Red Hat, a difficult path.)
Within the broad SDN discussion, Vyatta’s product – networking functionality that can be packaged and deployed as VM’s – makes sense for the same reason it made sense for VMware to acquire Nicira. In large virtualized servers much of the networking traffic is entirely within the server (e.g., traffic between the components of an application or within a virtual data center) and you need networking software to do that.
Does Open Source make sense for networking code? No and Yes. Very few enterprises will hack Open Source to create their own offering because if you did that you would create unique technology and basically be on the hook to support it yourself. If you’re a large financial services company building program trading systems that’s possible; for others it’s just not a sensible concept.
As it turns out many enterprise “Open Source” users don’t actually do anything with the code beyond using it as a technical reference. According to Max Schireson, the President of 10Gen (the MongoDB supplier) essentially all enterprise MongoDB applications use the binary distribution (which 10Gen provides for free). What then, you might ask (as I did), is the value of it being Open Source? Simple, Max replied. If you’re a software provider selling to a larger enterprise, and it’s not Open Source you go through “7 months of legal hell” during which the prospective buyers procurement people create a contract that makes sure the software source is suitably held in escrow and they have rights to it no matter what happens to the vendor (Max has a long history in the database business and speaks from direct experience). With Open Source you just point out that the software you’re using is freely available.
So can the Vyatta bits be of value to a Brocade customer? Absolutely! It’s a comprehensive, integrated and tested software stack. Will many enterprises use the Open Source for anything other than reference and to placate the lawyers? I seriously doubt it. Enterprises will continue to buy networks from companies that can fully support these business critical infrastructure assets. Brocade, like every successful networking company, will only support products they have thoroughly tested, not some customers private version.