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.