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NFV (Network functions virtualization)

Standards Lose Steam as Software Dominates

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Open Daylight Summit — As software ascends in importance throughout telecom, the emphasis on standards is going to wane, according to much of the discussion here this week.

Multiple speakers have actually emphasized the dangers of rushing to harden standards too early, saying service providers and enterprises are better served by using open-source software and systems and maintaining their flexibility to support whatever applications come down the pipe. The traditional standards process involving consensus and compromise among competing interests can do a disservice to innovation, or so the thinking here goes.

In particular, the much-discussed northbound interface of software-defined networking (SDN) is something no one seems to be in a rush to establish.

Dan Pitt, executive director of the Open Networking Foundation , told a standing-room only keynote crowd that his organization was being pushed to create an NBI standard two-and-a-half years ago, and if they'd given into that pressure, "we'd have gotten it wrong."

An entire panel devoted to the northbound interface spent a lively 50 minutes disagreeing on just about everything except the need to keep the interface from being set in stone.

In general, the networking industry needs to let go of what Guru Parulkar of Stanford University and the Open Networking Lab called its "obsession" with standards, and allow the ultimate choices to be determined by what works in the real world.

"We need to standardize as little as possible," he said. "You can't keep the same standards process in place once you become more software-based."

In his keynote, Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC)'s Erik Ekudden, VP and head of technology strategies, offered a somewhat less strident position, saying that traditional standards and de facto standards each serve their purpose and can be complementary.

What will become important, he stressed, is for the telecom industry to be able to offer other industries an easy way to access the network resources they need, and simply offering an applications programing interface (API) may not be enough, especially for businesses that aren't already working in the cloud and don't have on-board IT expertise.

Pitt reminded the crowd that his board is comprised of major telecom operators, and what they are focusing on is the art of the possible, not elegant approaches to building plug and play networks.

"We have to match what is needed with what is possible," he said. "We are working at solutions that succeed because the ultimate goal is commercial success."

The work of organizations such as OpenDaylight becomes more important to help match open-source solutions with what enterprises are looking for, added Nick Lippis of the Open Networking User Group.

And even on the service provider side, the open-source approach means everyone has the ability to reach out for help from the open-source community, said Christos Kolias, senior research scientist at Orange (NYSE: FTE) Silicon Valley.

"We can find out who has a solution, and pick the best one, without waiting for a committee to make up its mind," allowing for greater flexibility and more nimble networks, two of the primary goals of SDN and network functions virtualization, he said.

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

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TomNolle 2/5/2014 | 2:04:53 PM
The Age of Software isn't the Age of Standards Nice take, Carol!  Network standards grew up in an age where "interfaces" meant physical connections between boxes.  Given the hardware development cycle and the difficulty in changing physical interfaces, it wasn't surprising that carriers wanted fixed standards for them.  But an API beween two software components can be transformed from one form to another in a week's work or less.  We also have the new dimension of wanting to support service and application agility, and you tend to sacrifice both if you spend years defining something that a good software guy could transform in a week.

I think that "standards" are giving way to "open source" in a real sense since open bodies like OpenDaylight let you jump right to implementation and take advantage of the inherent flexibility of software systems.
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