There have been no major shifts in networking for 25 years, so as software-defined networking (SDN) unfolds, users can't afford to blow this chance, consultant Nick Lippis says.
Specifically, he's talking about how open (or not) SDN becomes.
"We're rapidly seeing company-specific stacks being built," says the head of Lippis Enterprises. "If the user community doesn't start to do more pilots with more open [architectures], then all the startups and all the innovative thinking that's in networking now will dry up. That window will close."
That was one of his main conclusions from the Open Networking User Group (ONUG), a one-day conference held Wednesday hosted by Fidelity Investments in Boston with about 200 attendees, many of them IT personnel from the financial services sector. (See Users Want 'Open' SDN Done Right.)
The invitation-only event, which had no media and limited vendor presence, was a chance for the technology's early adopters (and wannabe adopters) to air their concerns and experiences. It was exhilarating, says Lippis, who organized ONUG, ran Wednesday's conference and took a moment to talk to Light Reading before taking some down time in the Caribbean.
Few question that SDN, or something like it, is provoking changes in thinking that could change the way networks are designed, possibly radically. Those changes are sometimes described as being far off.
But Lippis thinks users are in a race against time. All the major networking vendors are busy defining their idea of SDN. If users have a different idea, they'd better assert it before the industry norm for whatever "SDN" becomes cements into place. He figures they've got 18 to 24 months.
Stuck in 1994
It's from that urgency that ONUG was formed. Last spring, Lippis realized he'd been talking to a lot of customers looking for a way to gain control over their networking infrastructure. The focus wasn't necessarily SDN, but a general frustration around the lack of automation in networking.
"Network management has been stuck in 1994, and the result has been bigger staff required to manage the network. Eighty percent of their time is just tweaking the network, port by port," Lippis says.
A typical IT organization has one engineer for every 90 switches or routers, Lippis says. For mobile networks, the ratio is closer to one to 8,000 -- the difference being that mobile operators, faced with traffic patterns that involved lots of little connections turning on and off rapidly, invested in automation.
ONUG was not created as an exercise to bash Cisco Systems Inc., nor is it meant to be "incumbent-destroyer" cheerleading, Lippis stresses. "They just want this fixed."
One major theme is that networking engineers need "permission to think differently," he says. "We've been living two and a half decades, 25 years, thinking about networks in one way, and that's all people know. When they hire people, they need Cisco CCIE certification. It's basically implying to people that if you don't think that way, we don't want to talk to you."
What ONUG's members have going for them is money. It sounds like the group largely consists of financial organizations and large enterprises (a full list hasn't been made available yet), so they've got the money to make vendors listen.
What they don't have going for them is time. If early adopters don't press vendors to stick to, say, the principles of openness that ONUG asserted Thursday, then those ideas could get left out.
That's why ONUG won't wait a full year for its next meeting, Lippis says.
â€” Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading