ONS and the Challenge of Open Networking

At the Open Networking Summit (ONS) this week, vendors big and small are talking about the success and direction of the open networking movement, including Software Defined Networking (SDN), Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), and whitebox hardware. There’s much reason for optimism, but there are a number of key challenges, too.

Guru Parulkar, Chair of ONS and the Executive Director at the Open Networking Research Center (ONRC), said in his opening keynote that open networking in 2016 has overcome many technological and business barriers.

“We can safely say that a new era of networking is here,” Parulkar said.

The new era of networking is defined by several key trends: disaggregation, a move to software virtualization, and open source. Parulkar noted that from a hardware perspective, the increasing availability of high-performance, programmable network silicon is helping enable the new era of networking.

From a software perspective, there are multiple open-source SDN controllers and multiple platforms, including OpenDaylight and ONOS. Going a step further, there are multiple open-source network orchestration platforms, including Open-O and OSM. On top of that, there are many applications and use cases building on top of the open networking stack.

“Now the questions is, with all these open-source projects, progress, and adoption by the industry, can we declare success?” Parulkar asked. “Since I’m so plugged into this, I have to say – not really.”

Parulkar noted that while open networking has made much progress and solved many problems, it has created many new problems as well.

He explained that the open networking journey began with the idea of disaggregation.

“We had been building our infrastructure with closed proprietary boxes, and we know what is wrong with that,” Parulkar said.

That said, from a network operator’s perspective, disaggregation can be very messy. Parulkar noted that it’s very difficult for an operator to consume a disaggregated network platform and create an infrastructure that works end-to-end. As such, what is in fact happening is that vendors are making use of open networking approaches to create incrementally better platforms that are still closed, proprietary solutions.

“So we started out trying to break away from closed, proprietary solutions and we’re now at the risk of ending up with closed, proprietary solutions unless we’re careful,” Parulkar said. “We have the risk of winning the battle, but losing the war and that’s not what we want as a community.”

Parulkar sees a need to also build and support fully integrated open source solutions that enable the disaggregated network experience. He emphasize that those solutions need proven scalability, performance, and ease of use to prevent closed solutions from dominating the industry.

Additionally, Parulkar sees a need for open standards to help prevent vendor lock-in. While open source can help in that regard, Parulkar warns that vendors shouldn’t attempt to wield open-source as a strategic weapon, either.

“We want to build non-differentiated open-source platforms so that we can enable innovation and we can grow the pie so our industry can accelerate faster,” Parulkar said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at Enterprise Networking Planet and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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