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OpenFlow Group Refines Its Role in SDN

Craig Matsumoto
News Analysis
Craig Matsumoto

The Open Networking Foundation won't just shrivel up in the presence of OpenDaylight. Rather, the ONF is planning a heap of announcements and new initiatives to coincide with its Open Networking Summit, which starts Monday April 15 in Santa Clara, Calif. The slate includes the ONF's technical direction for the next year and a refining of its mission. Rather than being a voice for the use of software-defined networking (SDN) -- a job that's been overrun by a stampede of vendors -- the ONF will now consider itself caretaker of the OpenFlow "substrate" that underlies SDN, ONF Executive Director Dan Pitt tells Light Reading. That's different from working on the controller and on the API linking that controller to routers and switches -- which is where OpenDaylight's focus is, Pitt says. It's about grooming OpenFlow as "a foundation on which any software that makes networks programmable can be written." OpenDaylight, which launched Monday, is a consortium of big vendors that's suggesting a standard set of open-source SDN pieces. It's the industry's first attempt to codify SDN, in a sense, and it's not counter to the ONF's plans, Pitt contends. "It said to us that there's a real market demand, and we're not designing in a vacuum," Pitt says. The ONF's primary work had been in advancing the OpenFlow standard and that work is continuing after a pause last year. Users, including carriers, were concerned about new and old versions being incompatible; OpenFlow 1.2 changed the length of the packet header, for example. That stabilizing step has been completed, with OpenFlow 1.3 selected as the baseline. (See OpenFlow Taps the Brakes.) Now, the ONF also plans to offer an OpenFlow driver, the software that handles the basics of the protocol, saving a bit of grunt work for anyone who's building an OpenFlow controller. This will be an open-source code that won't be developed by the ONF itself. Rather, the group will be launching a competition on April 17 to let other people develop it. Pitt still doesn't want the ONF to standardize the northbound applications programming interface (API), the software hook that would let applications and network management talk to the OpenFlow controller. "I actually know one operator that says, 'We're going to expect there to be two to four useful northbound APIs,'" Pitt says. "Standards will emerge, but they should emerge and not be dictated." OpenDaylight does intend to standardize a northbound API. The group is drafting one that will be made available as an open-source license. Then, it's going to be put into use and, depending on what happens, improved. That kind of standards effort is OK, Pitt says: "That's exactly how it should be done. They're going to write something and try it." Here's a sample of what else the ONF plans to announce next week.

  • Operations, administration and maintenance is being added to its charter. That item includes some elements related to security, Pitt says. One criticism of OpenFlow is that the controller, which relays instructions to switches and routers, provides a centralized point ripe for hacking.
  • The previously announced certification program is nearly ready. OpenFlow 1.0 conformance specifications are coming out this quarter, with OpenFlow 1.3 to follow later in the year. (See Putting OpenFlow to the Test.)
  • The New Transport working group, which Light Reading reported on a couple of weeks ago, will be announced formally, bringing optical networking into the OpenFlow discussion. "There is interest from wireless, but boy, the optical interest is just skyrocketing," Pitt says. (See OpenFlow Goes Optical.)
  • A transition group will be compiling a set of best practices related to bringing OpenFlow into an existing network.
  • For chip vendors, a new advisory board will help with codifying OpenFlow in hardware. Pitt says he's expecting some chip announcements to be made at ONS.
  • The ONF will start publishing a catalog of available OpenFlow controllers and northbound APIs.
  • The addition of more Research Associates -- university researchers who are granted status as full ONF members. This circle is being expanded to about a dozen, from four previously, including researchers from Brazil, China, Switzerland and the U.S.
For more — Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading
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Craig Matsumoto
Craig Matsumoto,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/10/2013 | 7:04:59 PM
re: OpenFlow Group Refines Its Role in SDN
I don't think the ONF ever came up with a comprehensive "SDN" definition, and that's a good move. As Dan Pitt was telling me, users have a variety of reasons for being interested in SDN, a wide range of pain points that the ONF thinks it can address. No need to pin down a definition that might exclude some of those cases.
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