Open Networking Summit Chair Guru Parulkar Defines SDN

The Open Networking Summit (ONS) gets underway today as a conference discussing the Software Defined Networking (SDN) movement. But what is SDN anyway, and does it have a uniform definition?

The answer depends on who you ask.

Guru Parulkar is the Chair of ONS and the Executive Director at the Open Networking Research Center (ONRC). He’s also one of the leading figures at Stanford who helped to shepherd the OpenFlow protocol to life.

At ONS this week, Parulkar told Enterprise Networking Planet that there will be more discussion about SDN becoming real as more vendors offer SDN solutions and deploy them in the real world.

Though the term SDN is widely used in the networking industry today, not all vendors use the term in the same way, or even according to the definition that ONS and Parulkar himself use.

“The incumbent vendors ignored SDN the first few years, then they actively denied SDN as a viable concept and tried to undermine it as a bad idea,” Parulkar said. “Now everyone is claiming to be doing SDN. The incumbents have jumped in and they are positioning other stuff that they are doing as SDN.”

Parulkar specifically mentioned networking giant Cisco among the incumbents whose view on SDN doesn’t necessarily directly align with his own views.

“When you look at Cisco, they say keep the distributed control plane as-is and let’s keep everything embedded in our proprietary closed boxes and give users a new interface that allows some programming of the boxes,” Parulkar said.

The Cisco ONE effort that Cisco first launched in 2012, and the associated onePK effort, open up Cisco networking equipment.

“If you talk to people that really understand SDN, they will say that the Cisco approach doesn’t provide the true value of SDN,” Parulkar said. “Users want simpler forwarding boxes with a vendor-agnostic interface, such as OpenFlow, and with a well-defined control plane implemented in software running on a server.”


With multiple flavors of SDN in the market today, there is a challenge that enterprises can get locked in to non-interoperable sets of solutions. Parulkar said that vendors involved in legacy-preserving SDN approaches are not a core focus for him.

“We care about interoperability,” Parulkar said. “We are on a mission to make true SDN and want to make it real and mainstream.”

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at EnterpriseNetworkingPlant and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist

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