November 30, 2015

IO Visor: Bringing the Network to the Linux Kernel

Valentina Alaria PLUMgridAs enterprise customers are moving into software-defined everything, including compute, storage and networking, new challenges are emerging. And since open source plays a very critical role in today's stack, it becomes increasingly important for players to deal with such challenges in an open source manner.

We are witnessing a trend in which more and more proprietary products are being released as open source. However, companies are not just throwing the code at the community; they are actually creating collaborative projects so that the project gets the best brains to work on it, and in most cases those best brains come from the very competitor of the company open sourcing it. We have seen projects like OpenStack, Cloud Foundry, and the Open Compute Project where arch rivals are working together to improve the stack.

We haven't before seen such an unprecedented collaboration between commercial players. The credit goes to the Linux Foundation, which has made big players comfortable with open source and collaboration.

IO Visor is one such project which brings different players together to address some serious issues around networking. IO Visor was initially developed by PLUMgrid, an SDN (software defined network) startup founded by Cisco engineers. The company then worked with The Linux Foundation to open source the project. Being a Linux Foundation Collaborative Project it now enjoys contributions from companies such as Barefoot Networks, Broadcom, Canonical, Cavium, Cisco, Huawei, Intel, and SUSE.

According to the project it brings universal IO extensibility to the Linux kernel and enables infrastructure/IO developers to create, publish, and deploy applications in live systems without having to recompile or reboot kernel code.

I recently interviewed Valentina Alaria, chair of the IO Visor project's marketing steering committee and senior director of product solution marketing at PLUMgrid. Here she discusses the project, why it became a Collaborative Project, and what that means for project governance and development.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Can you tell us about the project?
Valentina Alaria: The IO Visor project is a Linux Foundation Collaborative Project chartered to create an open source, technical community where industry participants easily contribute to and adopt the IO Visor project's technology for an open programmable data plane for modern IO and networking applications.

The IO Visor Project provides universal IO extensibility for the Linux kernel.

With a programmable data plane and development tools to simplify the creation and sharing of dynamic IO modules, IO Visor Project enables a new way to innovate, develop and share IO and networking functions within the community.

Why did you choose to become a Linux Foundation Collaborative Project? What benefits do projects like IO Visor and participating companies receive by being a collaborative project?
Alaria: Becoming a Linux Foundation Collaborative Project allows the IO Visor to continue to work with the large developer community that has been actively involved with the project for several years as well as to reach out to new community members, which we are seeing growing on a regular basis. IO Visor Project provides a broad set of benefits to any company leveraging Linux to build out data centers and clouds to run agile applications.

Can you tell us about the governance model of the project?
Alaria: IO Visor Project adheres to the governance model of Linux Foundation Collaborative Projects with a board, technical steering committee, marketing, legal, and finance operations. IO Visor Project board members are platinum sponsors with one silver member for every five silver sponsors. You can find more details here: https://www.iovisor.org/about/join

How does the project receive and manage funding to run the project?
Alaria: IO Visor Project receives funds through two levels of sponsorship: platinum and silver. The board is responsible for allocating use of these funds.

How do you engage with the open source community and Linux in general? What is your collaboration with different projects?
Alaria: There are a number of open source projects that are focused on new network functions, management/orchestration, improving ease of use or performance in different areas of the networking stack. IO Visor provides the in-kernel enhancements that these projects will leverage and expedites developer access to IO capabilities that may not be available today. By providing programmable data plane abstraction, in-kernel capabilities, and tools, the IO Visor Project will help developers in the networking space achieve faster innovation.

IO Visor Project is still in its early days but it had a presence at both the most recent OpenStack Summit in Tokyo as well as the first OPNFV Summit in San Francisco, showing good synergy between those projects.

How do the member companies share their resources -- mainly engineering with fellow members who also happen to be competitors in the market?
Alaria: IO Visor Project member companies are contributing equally the resources needed to support all areas (mainly technical, thought leadership and marketing). The TSC provides a key function of funneling short and long term goals and aligning members around those. We are also lucky to have a community of developers that is already actively contributing code to the project.

Open source has kind of become a norm, a standard for development. More and more companies are collaborating with partners and competitors. What's driving this adoption?
Alaria: The power of the community is what makes open source initiatives extremely powerful and transformational. The ecosystem of solutions and vendors that then blossoms around each community enables users to adopt such technology across a variety of use cases and environments.

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