Open Networking Foundation Set to Advance OpenFlow

Foundation setup to advance open source software defined networking protocol celebrates its first year. What has it done so far and what's next?

By Sean Michael Kerner | Posted Apr 13, 2012
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One of the most exciting up and coming trends in the world of networking in the last few years has been emergence of software defined networking (SDN). At the core of the SDN revolution is the open source OpenFlow protocol which has helped to define the entire SDN space.

OpenFlow enables the development of open network flows across multiple switches and environments.

Until 2011, OpenFlow and SDN in general was still a relatively loosely organized effort in the market, but that changed with the formation of the Open Networking Foundation (ONF). In 2011,the ONF took over the standardization effort for OpenFlow from Stanford University where it originally began.

Dan Pitt ONF"Over the last year, we formed our structure and working groups and we've issued an update to the OpenFlow standard," Dan Pitt, ONF's executive director, told EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet. "We've had plug fests and we have a big effort to promote commercialization through interoperability testing."

The ONF now has 65 member companies that are part of the foundation. Market education has been another key focus for the ONF over the last year. Understanding what the value of SDNs and OpenFlow in particular can enable is a message that the ONF is eager to share.

"The real value lies in the software constructs above the OpenFlow protocol," Pitt explained. "Where you take policy, business objectives, security and compliance and you translate that into routing and access control mechanisms for the network, that are conveyed by the OpenFlow protocol."

OpenFlow is popular because network operators are looking to tie the network closer to the overall IT infrastructure so it can be virtualized just like servers and storage have been.

"IT in the enterprise has been an unavoidable cost center, so enterprises are looking to make the network a more strategic asset," Pitt said.

Over the years, many networking protocols have been standardized through other bodies including the IEEE and IETF. There is no need for an IEEE standard, as the ONF is the standards body for OpenFlow. Pitt stressed that those participating in the ONF have a stake in commercializing OpenFlow and aren't just interested in the theory behind the standard. "We get a lot of real world feedback into what we do and consensus is determined in the working group by the working group chairs."

The most recent OpenFlow specification is the 1.2 version, which was approved in December of 2011. Work is currently ongoing for an upcoming 1.3 version that will provide some additional features including per connection event filtering.

Overall, Pitt's view is that OpenFlow with the help of the ONF will continues to evolve and it will fundamentally improve the performance of networking for the advancement of business process improvement.

"The ONF has become the center of attention for SDN and we feel we have an obligation to stimulate the vitality and success of the market," Pitt said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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