SDN Technology

Open Networking Acronym Soup

During the past few years, software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) have emerged as the next big thing in networking. As a result, we've seen established networking standards development organizations (SDOs) such as the ITU, IETF, TMF, among others, leap on the bandwagon to address SDN and NFV.

In addition, many new industry groups have been created, including the ONF, ETSI NFV ISG and ONUG, not to mention ODL, ONOS and OPNFV.

Confused yet? You're not alone. Understandably, many following SDN and NFV are drowning in a sea of abbreviation and acronym soup, trying to figure out what it is these groups do and whether they complement each other or compete.

Further complicating matters is the fact that some groups have multiple roles in driving SDN and NFV forward. To help you navigate the new standards terrain, I've taken a stab at classifying the current standards body landscape and how the different organizations compare.

In my mind, the many groups can be categorized as:

  • Industry groups
  • Standards development organizations (SDOs)
  • Open source software projects

Industry groups
Industry groups advocate for the network operator -- the constituents with the most at stake -- as a result of the transition to SDN and NFV. These groups, including the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) NFV Industry Specification Group (ISG), Open Networking User Group (ONUG) , among others, are focused on developing use cases, an architectural framework and network operator requirements and priorities to adequately guide SDN standards and implementations. Long-time industry groups such as the MEF and the Optical Internetworking Forum (OIF) have also responded by establishing SDN projects to guide their technology development/validation activities.

Standards development organizations
Next are the SDOs, which are increasingly influenced by network operators and their end-user customers to emphasize SDN and NFV adoption. Unlike their traditional counterparts, SDN and NFV SDOs stress implementations over specifications and completeness over functionality.

The ONF, established in 2011, was among the first of the new generation of SDN organizations. While best known for OpenFlow, the first SDN open standard, ONF is also standardizing SDN management and the important northbound interface to business applications. The ONF is working closely with industry groups such as the ETSI NFV ISG, along with the traditional standards bodies including the TM Forum and MEF, to ensure a cohesive architecture in the operator's best interest.

Traditional telecommunications standards bodies, including the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) , TM Forum (TMF), International Telecommunication Union, Standardization Sector (ITU-T) and others, have also established SDN and NFV projects within their existing governance structure and processes.

The IETF, for example, has initiated a number of SDN-related projects, including:

  • Forwarding and Control Element Separation (ForCES) -- A long-standing group (founded in the early 2000s) focusing on how forwarding can be programmed using centralized control.
  • Interface to the Routing Subsystem (i2rs) -- Effort to enable traditionally distributed routing protocols to be programmed by centralized control.
  • Service Function Chaining (SFC) -- Project to propose a new architecture for specifying and implementing service function chains for NFV service delivery.

    The TM Forum, which has traditionally focused on network management and operations, has been collaborating with the SDN and NFV community towards a common information model and on the so-called northbound interface between SDN controllers and the application layer above. One project of note is ZOOM (Zero-touch Orchestration, Operations and Management), focused on automation.

    The ITU, by far the most established telecommunications standards body, has had a number of ongoing SDN initiatives since 2013, including the Joint Coordination Activity (JCA) on SDNto ensure alignment.

    Open source software projects
    Open source software has emerged as a valuable tool for expediting adoption of SDN and NFV. A number of open source projects have been formed during the past two years, driven by the desire of operators and OEMs alike. Some of the key projects include OpenDaylight (ODL) and Open Networking Operating System (ONOS) SDN controller frameworks, and the Open Platform for NFV Project Inc. (OPNFV) that provides an open reference platform to enable learning, integration and an open NFV ecosystem.

    All open source projects do not operate alike. There is a spectrum of openness, from a broad-based community not controlled by any vendor, such as OpenDaylight (ODL), and open source projects driven by individual organizations such as ONOS and OpenContrail. OPNFV is an open community that leverages existing open source projects, focusing on integration and addressing functional gaps to address the NFV requirements.

    No matter how they are governed, open source projects play a valuable role in enabling operators and OEMs to benefit from the power of the community to innovate and achieve functionally complete and stable frameworks to realize the vision of both SDN and NFV.

    The bottom line
    SDN and NFV are not only reshaping how networks are architected and designed, but how network technologies are standardized and adopted. As influence shifts from the technology providers to technology consumers, standards (like virtually everything else) are rapidly evolving.

    Network operators -- including carriers, data center/cloud operators and enterprise IT groups -- are forming powerful industry groups to proactively define use cases and deployment scenarios for each segment. To accelerate adoption, open source projects have emerged such as OpenDaylight and ONOS, which offer OEMs a flexible and modular framework for an SDN controller, not to mention a platform for future exploration.

    In the software-defined networking universe, standards, industry groups and open source projects are closely coupled to accelerate adoption of new technologies and form new open ecosystems that radically depart from the proprietary bonds of the past. Given SDN's potential to transform technologies, organizations and the entire telecommunications market, no single organization can own SDN, necessitating collaboration and coordination among the industry groups, SDOs and open source projects that will propel SDN from the lab to deployment.

    — Marc Cohn, senior director, Office of the CTO, Ciena, and member of the executive council, Open Networking Foundation (ONF)

  • DHagar 3/23/2015 | 9:37:46 PM
    Re: Marketing Speak sure to Follow SteveSaunders, I fully agree!  This is an outstanding piece that most intelligently defines the open networking environment and the evolving technology changes.  Marc is a genious - "making the complex simple"!  He and you, with light reading are to be commended.  You need to be the leaders in forming an "intelligent" and thoughtful understanding of the industry!

    Phil_Britt 3/23/2015 | 10:36:17 AM
    Too Many Acronymns Nice post. There are far too many acronyms. It's OK when the audience is reading an article and can look up items. But too often in an interview or a presentation, the subject will go into acronym-speak without thinking about the interviewer/audiencw. While the interviewee/presenter might spend 40 hours a week in the technology weeds, not everyone else does.
    Steve Saunders 3/21/2015 | 9:40:29 AM
    Re: Marketing Speak sure to follow Marc, fantastic article! I'll drop you a line... i have some thoughts on how we can work together on a related area - Steve 
    dfoote 3/20/2015 | 3:42:24 PM
    A Few More Letters for Your Alphabet Soup Marc,

    Even though the article doesn't purport to list all the different organizations involved in SDN and NFV standards and open source projects, there are two more significant ones I would add to your list:


    The NFV Forum (NFV-F) within ATIS:

    It is focused on defining Service Provider-to-Service Provider and Enterprise-to-SP virtualization.



    And the Broadband Forum which has significant activity on aspects of virtualization related to broadband access networks and CPE.

    jabailo 3/20/2015 | 11:35:09 AM
    Marketing Speak sure to follow Where acronyms flourish, marketing labels are soon to follow.

    NFV? Softnet.  Flexweb.  Packet-Pong.

    SDN?  U-Build, Your Ping, ...


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