Facebook open source initiative to boost network development

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As businesses become increasingly digital and consumers' usage of rich digital content accelerates, the underlying communication network has become increasingly complex and this process is unlikely to slow in the foreseeable future.

That, according to Facebook software and network engineers Saif Hasan, Petr Lapukhov, Anuj Madan and Omar Baldonado was one of the main drivers behind Facebook's decision to open source Open/R, which Facebook uses in its backbone and data centre networks.

Open/R, which leverages existing open source codebases for a number of core functions, is an extensible network routing platform that removes some of the existing constraints in network development. It allows new network applications to be deployed much more quickly and reliably than previously possible, covering a wide variety of network domains and designs.

Open/R is said to be flexible and extensible enough to handle many types of network technologies and topologies.

In their Open/R announcement, the Facebook engineers noted that while traditional routing protocols have worked well over the past 30 years, it can be challenging and time-consuming to quickly push extensions or entirely new protocols into networking devices.

"New advances in routing often require carefully extending an existing protocol or designing new overlay extensions...To continue delivering rich, real-time, and highly engaging user experiences over networks, it's important to accelerate innovation in the routing domain," they said.

"By releasing the modern, easily extensible, and well-tested Open/R platform, we intend to push the state-of-the-art in the networking community."

Facebook worked with several external partners to bring Open/R to production, both inside the Facebook network and externally.

According to Nordic IT services and software company, Tieto - one of the companies working with Facebook on the Open/R project - the goal of Open/R is to become the foundation for an ecosystem of open source solutions to enable next generation network services and architectures that would pave the roads towards digitalisation.

"With Facebook's announcement to Open Source Open/R platform, it will be possible to adapt and tune the routing logic, metrics and other parameters to meet current and future demands, beyond what can be obtained with traditional OSPF routing protocol," said Tieto's Head of Product Development Services, Tom Leskinen.

"The backbone of consumer, but also business services, is becoming more and more application-centric. Digitalisation is very much about the need for more rapid introduction of new applications and distributed applications.

"Facebook has identified the need to enable a more efficient and speedy way to run distributed applications. This is required for the improved Internet connectivity that is at the heart of digitalisation," Leskinen added.

The Facebook engineers agreed. "While traditional routing protocols have been instrumental to the progress of technology in the past few decades, we are approaching the point where networks need to evolve even faster. Open/R is an open platform that makes it easy to rapidly test and deploy new ideas at scale, making our networks more efficient, quicker to deploy, and easier to manage," they said.

"We strongly encourage network operators, researchers, vendors, engineers, and the overall networking community to use Open/R to implement their ideas and build modern networks that are more open and can evolve faster than ever," the engineers concluded.

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