Open Source

Cisco "Think inside the box" contest finalists answer my questions

Jack Wallen had the opportunity to interview the finalists in the latest Cisco "Think inside the box" contest. Read about what the finalists had to say about developing for open source, the future of Linux, and their projects.

Nearly a year ago Cisco announced (in THIS BLOG Oct 14th, 2008) a new contest where teams would develop creative, open source applications for a Cisco Integrated Services Router. With a total prize of $100,000 USD, this contest brought in a number of teams to compete. Of those teams that entered, there were eight finalists. Of those finalists I had the pleasure of interviewing three teams that have a chance to share the prize money. The questions focused on open source (of course) and just might shed some light on how projects like this can help further the cause. You can click on the link for each team to see the project they are working on.

Team Ideate (Gopinath Bailur)

1. What inspired you to create this particular project?

Gopi New platforms excite us all the time and our curiosity to do new things in every platform was the driving factor for us to create this project. Also being so long with Servion Global Solutions and handling Customer Interaction Management domain, we felt the need to address common customer issues while managing the platform. Having intelligence at the edge is something we are very cognizant about, and AXP has a good solution for that which we wanted to explore.

2. What draws you to develop open source projects?

Gopi: What interests us in particular on open source is the fact that I am working collaboratively with the best minds across the world. Also in converse, the pride that we get that somebody else is using our code drives us to work more in these projects and initiatives.

3. What are the particular problems you run into when developing open source projects?

Gopi : As always support is a big problem. It is always at "best effort" and there are no SLAs or owners we can reach out to. In hear we ensured to use the best of best open source tools available which does not hinder development.

4. What operating systems will this be available for? Or will this only require the use of Cisco hardware?

Gopi : This can work on a Linux based kernel. But we tweaked it to work for AXP as well. Though as a standalone model it does not require Cisco hardware, to get the best of both worlds, we recommend that these applications are used in tandem with Cisco gear. Our application depicts and enhances the capability of the platform and makes more sense to deploy for our customers.

5. Do you ever plan on releasing this code to the public and/or porting it to a standard Linux (or Linux variant) operating system?

Gopi: Some of the code we developed was already based on open source, so if given a chance we would evaluate releasing it to public.

6. What other open source projects are you working on?

Gopi : We have worked extensively on Asterisk and we might do the same in the future as well. We will be continuously looking for opportunities which tickle our brain and more importantly are useful to the customer.

7. What are the biggest challenges facing open source in the future?

Gopi: We believe ownership to be the biggest challenge facing open source in the future. Honestly, we believe that open source will challenge proprietary code.

8. Does this team develop with open source tools (if so, what)?

Gopi: We do work on Linux on kernels which we compile based on the requirement of our product.

9. If the team could only choose one operating system to work with, what would that be?

Gopi : Linux

10. How does the work you are doing with this Cisco project directly benefit the open source community?

Gopi : If our source code can be given back to the public, it would help a lot. Especially some of the feature set that we developed are utmost required by any customer using the Cisco platform which ensures proactive monitoring, managing the overall asset, capacity planning etc..

SNAT (Patrick McNeil)

1. What inspired you to create this particular project?

Patrick: The initial inspiration for the project came from my professional job as a computer network and security consultant.  During the course of my normal work, I would do network assessments for customers which had minimal information on the devices on their network.  The initial work was a series of scripts to do data collection (not integrated into a cohesive package).

At the same time, I was working on my first Master's degree from the University of Advancing Technology (UAT - http://www.uat.edu).  As part of my final applied thesis, I created the first generation of the SNAT. This project integrated a number of separate scripts into a cohesive application with a web front end and a database back end.

The inspiration to integrate the standalone SNAT project with the Cisco AXP hardware platform comes from a desire for organizations to deploy devices that can perform audit functions within the network, but without the need for separate hardware and software to manage.  This integration enables the network team to deploy their auditing tools without requiring additional space or cooling in the data center.

2. What draws you to develop open source projects?

Patrick: I prefer development on the open source projects because of the freedom to modify and review source code for the applications and libraries I use. Additionally, the open source projects generally have low cost to entry (free in most cases) and are more agile and responsive to the needs of the community.  From a support perspective, most large open source projects have an active community that can provide examples or troubleshooting tips for common issues during the development process.

3. What are the particular problems you run into when developing open source projects?

Patrick: Typical issues I have run into when developing in an open source environment is the lack of a unified vision or direction for related projects.  Also, documentation is sometimes lagging behind the current releases (though this is not always the case).  On smaller projects, there may not be a large or active community making support more difficult. However, I typically do not run into these issues very often.

4. What operating systems will this be available for? Or will this only require the use of Cisco hardware?

Patrick: The SNAT project utilizes the Cisco Hardware or nearly any operating system meeting the prerequisites (Perl, MySQL, Apache, and a number of Perl libraries).  I am currently in development on a Java version of the application to get around some limitations of portability between different operating system versions.

5. Do you ever plan on releasing this code to the public and/or porting it to a standard Linux (or Linux variant) operating system?

Patrick: The current version of SNAT operates on standard Linux systems today.  I am working on porting the application to Java to enable a more portable (less library dependent) installation of the application.  I have been considering releasing the code into the public and creating the application as an open source project.

6. What other open source projects are you working on?

Patrick: Currently, I a not working on any other open source projects.

7. What are the biggest challenges facing open source in the future?

Patrick: I believe the biggest challenge for open source in the future is the perception that open source means free.  Although most open source projects are free, that does not mean that the

developers should be working for free (or that all open source projects should be free).  For example, a common method for monetizing an open source project is to offer professional

services (installation, configuration, customization, support, etc) around the open source project.

Another challenge around open source is the perception that organizations are basically on their own for support.  The perception with going with commercial software is the fact that there is an organization which provides support services, upgrades, etc for the product.  When compared to an open source project, there may not be an organization providing support (or even continuing the development of a project).

8. Does this team develop with open source tools (if so, what)?

Patrick: Team SNAT used the Eclipse IDE (http://www.eclipse.org/) for the development of the primary application components and source code development.

9. If the team could only choose one operating system to work with, what would that be?

From the application development perspective the Linux operating system (Ubuntu specifically) would be the primary operating system for the application hosting.  The development workstations can be any operating system supporting the Eclipse IDE (in this case a combination of Windows and Ubuntu workstations were used at different points in the development process).

10. How does the work you are doing with this Cisco project directly benefit the open source community?

Patrick: The most obvious benefit is the additional exposure from a large organization such as Cisco putting support and development effort into the open source community. The open source community also benefits from more teams developing projects utilizing open source technologies. These projects expand the knowledge and breadth of applications and offerings available in the open source community.

BugsBernie (Bernie Beckmann)

1. What inspired you to create this particular project?

Bernie: Several customers' demands

2. What draws you to develop open source projects?

Bernie: To fill some infrastructure gaps of closed software. Plus, speed & flexibility.

3. What are the particular problems you run into when developing open source projects?

Bernie: Sometimes lack of documentation, community response at very specific issues

4. What operating systems will this be available for? Or will this only require the use of Cisco hardware?

Bernie: The current release is closely linked with the Cisco H/W (AXP/CUCME), which is one of the great benefits of having such a close integration (such as high security for IOS API communication etc.).

5. Do you ever plan on releasing this code to the public and/or porting it to a standard Linux (or Linux variant) operating system?

Bernie: It actually runs on Ubuntu too, for example.

6. What other open source projects are you working on?

Bernie: Use of Ubuntu, PJSIP, Mono project, plans for Jabber/XMPP

7. What are the biggest challenges facing open source in the future?

Bernie: S/W patent issues and solid business models for developers

8. Does this team develop with open source tools (if so, what)?

Bernie: Other tools: .NET/C# (ECMA standards) on Visual Studio

9. If the team could only choose one operating system to work with, what would that be?

Bernie: Fortunately, there is a large selection of OS's available, in the open source world as well as in the closed source world to give the developers and customers the best choice depending on demands and requirements (business workflow, embedded, real-time, ...) Developers just love to have the choice. So when it comes to operating system, the Linux variants are best, but for development tools I do prefer .NET. Mono seems to unite both worlds which was part of my personal challenge of this project. And a successful proof of concept, too!

10. How does the work you are doing with this Cisco project directly benefit the open source community?

Bernie:  Directly? That is hard to say. Maybe indirectly two points: 1. Reputation for the open source SIP stack connected to the Cisco Unified Manager Communications Manager Express with great stability and compatibility 2. Cross platform usage proof of concept of Mono from the Mono project, which yielded an even better performance and compatibility on the Linux platform than on its Windows counterpart!!! (such as Socket communications with Cisco IP phones)..

And there you have it. The three finalists in the Cisco contest. After checking out their projects and reading what they have to say, with regards to open source, which team would you pick to win this contest?

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About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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