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Users Want 'Open' SDN Done Right

Craig Matsumoto
Valley Wonk
Craig Matsumoto

Isn't networking gear supposed to be interoperable? Shouldn't that interoperability prevent vendor lock-in? The answer isn't always "yes," to put it politely. A users' group that convened Wednesday to discuss software-defined networking (SDN) seems determined to make things work in their favor this time. The Open Networking User Group (ONUG) was a one-day conference organized in Boston by consultant Nick Lippis, head of Lippis Enterprises. "Users," in this case, refers mostly to large enterprises, representatives of which gathered to hear talks from SDN-vendor executives, among others. I haven't gotten to talk to attendees yet. But the five-point recommendation they're issuing Thursday morning is rather telling. Here's what they want to see in an "open" network:

  • Interoperable networks. When it comes to standards such as OpenFlow or common elements such as hypervisors, everyone has to play nice.
  • No vendor lock-in. Everybody ought to support everybody else's switches, services, hypervisors, controllers, and so on.
  • Networks that are programmable via northbound application programming interfaces (APIs). Part of the idea here is to speed up service creation by offering easy ways to link networks and applications. But it's also about replacing command-line interfaces with something more modern.
  • Increased network visibility. Monitoring needs to be pervasive and more thorough. Moreover, "Open networks should emit real time network statistics to various traffic analytic and Big Data engines to determine network operational state," the recommendation reads.
  • An open-networking business model. "ONUG believes that for open networking to accelerate, the industry needs a viable, altruistic, truly open networking business model to drive innovation, fuel research and development and deliver best of breed solutions without allowing individual vendor proprietary interests to derail SDN deployments. Who will be the Red Hat of Open Networking?"
It's the first two points and the last one -- the part about an "altruistic" model -- that stand out. Whether you believe in SDN or not, it seems clear that networking is at the start of some major changes. I think the goal behind ONUG was to make sure it gets done "right," by making sure the path isn't led by vendors. That mainly means Cisco Systems Inc. There's a concern Cisco will hijack SDN, either by redefining it into Cisco-friendly terms or by flooding the space with so many standards as to make SDN unusable. I've heard competitors fret about both possibilities. This attitude, this caution about vendors' methods and motives, isn't unique to ONUG. The Open Networking Foundation (ONF), which curates the OpenFlow standard and promotes SDN in general, bars equipment vendors from its board of directors. And the Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) effort is being driven by carriers. Every vendor (including Cisco) pledges its SDN architecture will be "open." This time, users will hold them to that. For more — Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Beer
2/15/2013 | 3:21:14 PM
re: Users Want 'Open' SDN Done Right
Vendor lock-in may happen incidentally by lack of interoperability ... The "Open" in the name and the very valid altruistic goals need to be complemented by interoperability testing efforts coordinated worldwide -- starting from an application point of view as far as EANTC's interoperability tests are concerned.-Š We are working with the ONF, whose interop events focus on the protocol point of view primarily for enterprise data center use cases.

At EANTC in Berlin, Germany, we are conducting the first public service-provider focused SDN interoperability test-Š right now.-Š Results will be published and shown live at SDN Summit, Paris, March 19-22.-Š-Š We have defined a pretty extensive test plan with 11 OpenFlow- plus 8 PCE-related test cases focusing service provider WAN environments and interworking of SDN networks and legacy packet networks.

At this point, OpenFlow support seems to be more widespread; naturally implementations continue being developed. The more elaborate OpenFlow protocol version 1.2 is not backwards compatible to 1.0 which more vendors support at this point.-Š PCE is an alternative means to control an SDN; we already tested early implementations last year.

So there are three threats visible on the horizon that could lead to "lock-in" situations:
1. Diverging vendor support of OpenFlow protocol versions
2. Industry disagreement about the best suitable control protocol for SDNs (OpenFlow, PCE, ...).
3. Non-overlapping protocol options support, resulting in lack of interoperability for certain use cases.

Please stay tuned for detailed test results to be published in a white paper by March 19.

Best regards, Carsten Rossenh+¶vel (EANTC)
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/15/2013 | 3:00:31 PM
re: Users Want 'Open' SDN Done Right
So true interoperability is a software thing. -ŠAs them how they are going to have ANY differentiated features and have them be interoperable with all other vendors? -ŠAt that point, I think this idea will change.

Craig Matsumoto
Craig Matsumoto,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/15/2013 | 12:23:03 AM
re: Users Want 'Open' SDN Done Right
Does no vendor lock-in reduce equipment to vanilla least-common-denominator?-Š And realistically, will these changes in the network just shift vendor lock-in to other vendors, rather than really doing away with it?

Questions like that came up in a really interesting Twitter discussion shortly after this article popped up, involving Mike Dvorkin of Insieme and others -- samples of it all are here and here. By the time I'd noticed the dialogue, it had spiraled out of my league.

Dvorkin also made a good point: Many customers just want what works, not specific things like "open." This particular group of customers in ONUG is admittedly different from the norm. I'm doing a followup story on that.
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