ONS 2014 Keynote: Openness is Everything

“There’s something open in the air.”

That’s how Guru Parulkar, Open Networking Summit chair, led off today’s ONS 2014 keynote panel, How Open [Compute, Network, Source] Will Shape Future of Computing & Networking.

As befitting a conference with the word “open” right there in the name, the ONS believes strongly in the value of openness. At the keynote, Facebook Director of Technical Operations Najam Ahmad, Open Networking Foundation Executive Director Dan Pitt, Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin, and Canonical Ubuntu Community Manager Jono Bacon pushed the case for openness in networking. Pitt made an ONF announcement, too.

The end of the proprietary model

“The network infrastructure industry is under a lot of pressure,” Parulkar said, citing the rapid, problematic growth of capital and operating expenses related to network infrastructure and the inability of legacy network infrastructures to enable revenue-generating services at the speed required. “Current network infrastructure has systemic problems,” he said, and SDN has an opportunity to solve those problems. But to do so will demand a break with the proprietary, closed networking boxes of the past, the panelists insist.

That’s what Facebook is doing with the Open Compute Project, as Ahmad explained. The project aims to apply the concept of open source—more typically associated with software development—to the hardware itself. OCP strives to disaggregate software from hardware so that “you can pick your hardware, you can pick your operating system, and you can pick which applications run on top of it, and your investments can go from hardware to hardware and go across platforms,” he said.

The OCP community and technology are growing, Ahmad said. OCP now boasts dozens of contributions, more than 150 member companies, and thousands of participants involved in the monumental task of breaking down today’s proprietary, locked, closed approach to networking technology.

The reason the effort matters is because the old approach no longer works for enterprises.

“People who use and operate networks are telling us in very clear terms” that they want more from their networks, the ONF’s Pitt said. Network operators want flexible, agile infrastructure and the ability to “create revenue-producing services quickly, under their own control, their own writing, their own procurement, and not have to depend on networking equipment vendors to get them the features” they need, he explained. They don’t want to be locked in to vendors anymore. To address that need, the ONF is working towards a software defined networking model that isn’t controlled by any single party, Pitt said.

Pitt cautioned that in order for open SDN to succeed, however, every piece of the open networking movement has to work. This includes open source switching hardware like the OCP’s, open southbound protocols like those the ONF is developing, open source controllers like OpenDaylight’s, and open source cloud computing projects like OpenStack. And “the penguin in the room underlying all of this,” he pointed out, “is Linux. Is the future network really nothing more than Ethernet, x86, and OpenFlow?”

ONF SampleTap

In a demonstration of the utility of OpenFlow and open source in general, Pitt announced the availability of the new ONF SampleTap application. He described ONF SampleTap as an “open source application for OpenFlow, written on OpenDaylight, from the Open Networking Foundation.”  ONF SampleTap is a basic (read: not commercial-grade) network tapping application available on the ONF’s Github repository as an educational tool for developers.

Hardware people: “Your days are behind you”

SampleTap and the rest of the open source networking ecosystem serve to demonstrate two important networking trends, which the Linux Foundation’s Zemlin said are the rise of software as “the cornerstone of the tech industry” and the rise of open source. Discussing the abstraction of intelligence out of hardware and into software, Zemlin asked for forgiveness from any hardware people in the room before telling them that “your days are behind you.”

“You have to find a better way to make software than trying to hire a few smart people, lock them in a room, feed them pizza and beer, and hope they output code,” he went on, adding that “all of us are smarter than one of us.” Open source is demonstrating that community collaboration is a better, faster way to create software, according to Zemlin. Even vendors like Sony and Apple use open source in their phones. And that is because “collaborative development really is being on the right side of history,” he said.

SDN, too, is on the right side of history, according to these panelists.

The important thing about open networking and open SDN is that “nothing is controlled by a single party. It’s community-determined, community-based, and community-approved,” Pitt said. Zemlin shares the sentiment: “As SDN becomes more and more well-implemented and grows, I think that open source will be the basis for that.”

And according to Parulkar, the ONS vision of white boxes, merchant silicon, and open source network operating systems “may not happen overnight, but this is inevitable.”

Header photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

ENP editor Jude ChaoJude Chao is managing editor of Enterprise Networking Planet. Follow her on Twitter @judechao.

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