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SDN offers the promise of networking solutions without vendor lock-in, but how can industry standards be attained?

Empowering End-Users Through Open SDN

Dan Pitt
Column
Dan Pitt
5/28/2014
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SDN may be a new development, but there is already a bevy of key players in the space and more joining the effort every day. Startups and established vendors, software developers and chipmakers, user groups and standards bodies -- everyone seems to be getting their hands on SDN.

It's a great time for the networking industry, especially for the end-users who will see direct benefits from these technologies.

But this game-changer also offers exciting possibilities for the future of the network as a whole: networking solutions without vendor lock-in; putting control back into the hands of end-users; directly tying network (and IT) operation to business priorities; flexible, service-independent infrastructure; discussions throughout the entire networking industry, from hardware to software to consumer; the potential for a vibrant, truly open ecosystem with unprecedented choice. That's why the word "open" is on everyone's lips.

In defining openness, we refer to initiatives that are not controlled by a single party. We want to get as many hands as possible in the SDN movement, and we want equal opportunity for contribution from the broad spectrum of organizations affected. This is why the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) fosters dialogue between vendors and customers; works directly with organizations such as OpenDaylight, the Open Compute Project, and ETSI NFV; has a Board of Directors composed entirely of major, committed SDN end-users; and encourages participation and innovation from companies of all sizes. The reality is that, if the concept of the marketplace of ideas holds steady, we must ensure that many voices are heard.

To have openness within the SDN ecosystem, we believe that standards play a significant role. Standards provide the framework and the guidelines for enabling solutions that are not only open but also interoperable. They can be de jure (defined by committees) or de facto (defined by the marketplace), and market demands associated with the standard determine which means of definition is preferred.

For example, consider the difference between protocols and interfaces. Both can be highly effective standards if they are chosen at the right places, fostering innovation around them once they are agreed. But protocols are essentially the languages that networks speak across physical links, while interfaces are points of connection between network components, such as equipment or protocol layers, allowing information to move throughout a system. Open, vendor-neutral, standard protocols are vital and useful to the SDN community. They ensure that SDN solutions speak the same language, encouraging an interoperable marketplace.

But establishing these standards through a competitive marketplace would be time-consuming and costly, or not even possible if the costs incurred included custom ASIC development. Therefore, a committee is the preferred method for protocol standardization.

In contrast, open, standard interfaces, especially software APIs, are best suited to being de facto standards, because they can be easily iterated and improved on within the marketplace. Nonetheless, it is still important that the industry does everything possible to ensure that whatever interface becomes popular and standardized within the market is still vendor-neutral and not controlled by a single party.

Those who develop standards also play an important role in ensuring that they be open. From ONF's standpoint, standards should be created by those within the industry who have a financial stake in their outcome and can control when they are implemented. The reality is that end-users do not make products -- vendors do. However, operators have a direct impact on the industry because they create services out of products and have direct control over anything that is implemented within their networks. They experience SDN's benefits. It is of particular interest to them that the solutions they purchase and the software their networks leverage be open and interoperable. They should be actively helping to determine what is standardized de facto and de jure because they are directly affected by these decisions as customers.

ONF strongly encourages -- and enjoys -- the participation of end-users in the organization's efforts as we work on and build upon standards for SDN.

The goal of the SDN movement is to change the domain from hardware to software and to put the software in the hands of the network operator. It is a huge shift, and we understand that it will take time for networks (and organizations) to make the transition. We are doing everything we can to simplify the process, and we continue to sense a great deal of optimism from the end-user community. The more we engage with customers, the more we begin to understand the empowerment that they associate with taking control of the network once again. Power is shifting from vendors to end-users, and from lock-in to open and interoperable, and the enthusiasm that we are observing is inspirational.

Dan Pitt, Executive Director, Open Networking Foundation, and Marc Cohn, Chair, ONF Market Education Committee and Senior Director, Market Development, Ciena


Dan Pitt is a keynote speaker at Light Reading's Big Telecom Event (BTE), which will take place on June 17 and 18 at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers. The event, for which the ONF is a founding partner, combines the educational power of interactive conference sessions devised and hosted by Heavy Reading's experienced industry analysts with multi-vendor interoperability and proof-of-concept networking and application showcases. For more on the event, the topics, and the stellar service provider speaker lineup, see Telecommunication Luminaries to Discuss the Hottest Industry Trends at Light Reading's Big Telecom Event in June.


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DanPitt
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DanPitt,
User Rank: Light Beer
5/29/2014 | 5:43:00 PM
Re: Empowering End-Users Through Open SDN
Hi, DHagar. Thank you for your comment, and I'm grateful to hear of your shared belief. Software is a real game-changer, and as the movement progresses, it is of utmost importance that we focus on open SDN and the needs of users. It's an exciting time in the networking industry! Dan Pitt
DHagar
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DHagar,
User Rank: Light Sabre
5/28/2014 | 8:45:33 PM
Empowering End-Users Through Open SDN
Dan, these are very positive developments.  It sounds as if your organization is going about this in a very thoughtful way.  I think the emphasis on standards and responding to the end users is key, as meeting their demands will create the growing markets for SDN.

It sounds as if this is a maturing process that will really establish SDN.  I share your belief that software is the key.
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