What Is Open Source, and Why Is IEEE Involved?


Q&A with Gary Stuebing, IEEE Corporate Advisory Group Open Source Ad Hoc, Chair

The IEEE Standards Association (IEEE SA) is exhibiting at OSCON 2017 in Austin, Texas, 10-11 May 2017. Stop by Booth 207 to learn about the role that open source plays in IEEE standards development.

How do you define the term “open source”?

Basically, open source is software. It has to meet some specific requirements in the Open Source Definition, which a lot of people refer to as “OSD.” And all of this is maintained and managed by a group called the Open Source Initiative.[1]

There are 10 elements of being open source, as defined in the OSD, and they address a wide range of requirements. You must have free redistribution—the code goes out there for distribution and redistribution, and it’s all royalty free. There are some discussions about derived works. There are things in the licensing of open source code where there may be some attribution restrictions. In other words, the author of the code might have some restrictions on how the open source can be used or what happens with modifications to the open source and how it comes back into the libraries, etc. There cannot be discrimination against persons or groups—anybody can get at the open source code—and there can be no discrimination against particular fields of endeavor. The distribution of licenses applies automatically to recipients, so anybody who gets it has to abide by the licensing. The license must not be specific to any product, and it can’t restrict other software. And the licenses must be technology-neutral.

What does open source offer IEEE and its membership?

We believe that open source is going to fuel the innovation of solutions and advance technology for the benefit of humanity. That’s typically what IEEE tries to do with all of its standards and other activities, and open source similarly is going to be one of those tools that helps IEEE live up to our mission.

We think that open source holds potential especially for economical solutions for developing nations to solve local problems and related challenges in a sustainable fashion. It has the ability to empower applied technology education and experimentation, from personal member interests to social innovation outcomes. What we mean by that is we think that open source within the IEEE is going to allow us to provide some educational offerings and provide us with things like abilities to demo solutions that we might develop.

We also feel that open source will engage a diverse and energetic community outside of our traditional membership and encourage joint technical development and deployments through non-traditional means. Everybody thinks of IEEE 802.3™ Ethernet and IEEE 802.11™ “Wi-Fi®” when they think of IEEE; we think that, with open source, it will give us an opportunity to diversify a little bit and provide some solutions outside of hardware. This is pretty non-traditional for us, and it’s been kind of an education within IEEE to get to this point. They are two different communities, engineers and IT professionals. They share many of the same issues, but those are two different worlds—and there are some challenges getting them to understand each other.

What is IEEE doing in the open source space, and what are the next steps?

The IEEE Standards Association Corporate Advisory Group (CAG) initiated an ad hoc a couple of years ago. The CAG ad hoc for open source is a subset of the CAG membership, along with members of from other areas of the IEEE who are in other standards or different societies within IEEE. The ad hoc is currently engaging 15 to 20 people on a call. We were tasked with the objective of answering, Does open source have a place within IEEE, and, if it does, how do we integrate open source within the IEEE?

That’s what our ad hoc team has been trying to understand and put some bracketing and efforts around getting and understanding and gently introduce open source within the IEEE. What have we done? First, we determined that, yes, open source does have a place in IEEE. In fact, what we found is that there are a couple of standards out there in which open source was already being used, to prototype and to demo.

We started scoping out the initial open source engagement. This has been very difficult, determining where we are going to put it and how the licensing is going to work. There are a number of prototype licenses out there that give you a basis of how you do it, and we have worked to decide which ones of those we are going to use and how are we going to apply it within IEEE. One of the things that is very important to IEEE is how are IP issues handled, and we are still working our way through this.

An open source use case template has been developed, and it’s under review by the CAG ad hoc. And we’ve defined a project that is using open source: IEEE P2413™, Draft IEEE Standard for an Architectural Framework for the Internet of Things (IoT), which is designed to propose an architectural framework supporting cross-domain interaction, system interoperability and functional compatibility, and to fuel the growth of the IoT market.

What are the next steps?

What we’re trying to do now is put together some use cases, and the IEEE Standards Association Standards Board is looking at how these could be integrated in the standards process. The next phase moves on to projects, operations and market introductions—trying to let the world know that the IEEE is going to be engaged in open source and where that’s going to fit and educate people of what we’re going to do and how. And then hopefully, by the end of this year, we’ll have something that’s become part of the offerings within IEEE.


Gary Stuebing is currently leading the Internet of Things standards efforts at Cisco Systems in the Enterprise Networking Group CTO’s office. He currently represents Cisco in a number of Smart Grid standardization efforts. These include IEEE, ITU, IEC and the UCAIug. Gary represents Cisco on the Boards of LoRa, Avnu, Wi-Sun and the IEEE Corporate Advisory Group.

[1] — http://www.opensource.org/docs/definition.php



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