Google, AT&T, BT Unite on Network Data Models

Carol Wilson
News Analysis
Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large
11/20/2014



An initial informal collaboration of two web giants, Google and Microsoft, along with major telecom players AT&T and BT, has produced a key network data model for next-generation packet networks, starting with a specifications for BGP (border gateway protocol), which plays an essential role in routing traffic across IP networks.

The companies have produced a vendor-neutral Yang model called BGP Configuration Model for Service Provider Networks, which focuses initially on BGP base protocol configuration and policy configuration. Now the group is ready to tackle MPLS with a wider base of participants.

The new model was presented in draft form to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) at its meeting in Honolulu last week, and could see implementations commercially next year, according to Bikash Koley, principal architect and manager of network architecture at Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), which is already implementing the new model internally.

Working informally as a group through a GitHub-based open source process -- the code is here, but available on an invite-only basis -- the quartet started with a Google working draft to which all four participants contributed significantly during the past several months. Their goal was enabling a vendor-neutral approach for network operators to manage BGP configuration in multi-vendor networks, something that would allow network operators to mix and match routing hardware and software systems from multiple sources without enduring lengthy integration efforts.

That's something that will become increasingly important as operators look to build networks using SDN and NFV capabilities. One of the main reasons network operators are keen on SDN and NFV adoption is that it should enable them to break free of vendor lock-in, but the full benefits of such freedom can only be realized if it is easy to plan and deploy networks using hardware and software from multiple best-of-breed suppliers.

The OpenConfig workgroup -- an invitation-only group found here -- deliberately chose BGP as a starting point because "we thought it would be hardest and most complex to pull off," says Koley. But the group was able to create results in a matter of months, speeding the process of standardization and getting to an implementation point quite quickly even ahead of a standards process, he notes.

A snapshot of the current OpenConfig data models is also publicly available in the YangModels Github repository here.

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) were equal contributors, he notes, and he credits those efforts with enabling this early success. Moving forward, other companies including Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq: YHOO) are joining the efforts to address MPLS in a multi-vendor protocol fashion.

This industry-wide initiative is something Koley had publicly sought when he delivered a keynote address last summer at Light Reading's Big Telecom Event, admitting that Google needed help in advancing what it sees as key network data models. (See Google to Open Key Network Models for Industry Comment, Standardization.)


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"The momentum has been very impressive. Starting from essentially nothing, just a Google model, to build on top of, to having an IETF draft with four major carriers contributing to the model actively, is impressive," Koley says. "The key here is that all of them actually contributed as much as Google."

The ultimate goal is to have this new data model natively supported in routing gear so network operators can choose their equipment based on its functionality and not be locked into one vendor because of the lack of compatibility among BGP deployments. By building the model from the operator perspective, the OpenConfig workgroup was able to focus on implementation and the real-world issues around that, Koley says.

BGP was considered the toughest technical challenge because of the wide diversity of use cases among operators and the concern that "you can't do something that is generic enough" to cover all operators, especially since the use cases are so different and are described and implemented in specific ways, he notes.

"What we are really proving here is that it is completely do-able -- the model we have come out with is actually quite elegant," Koley says. "The base model is quite concrete and comprehensive and covers all these use cases. It proves there is real value in doing this and you can come out with something that is very much multi-user and covers a wide swath of use cases."

Waiting for the standards process to accomplish this same goal would take much more time, which makes industry agreement on what becomes a de facto standard a better approach, according to the Google exec. He does credit the IETF and its committee chairs with supporting this process and expects to see even more widespread support going forward with the next focus on MPLS.

Vendor support is also ultimately important, as the vendors have to implement the data models being developed by the open source group. "We want them as part of this process," he says, but the standards themselves need to be operator-driven.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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