ODL + ONF: Supporting SDN.

OpenStack for cloud management has been in the spotlight for a while, and rightfully so. While cloud network management is important, in order to build interoperable and multi-vendor software-defined networks, industry and media attention to layers 1-3 of the SDN stack is equally important. As in the OpenStack forum, open source community involvement in the OpenDaylight Project (ODL) and the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) is critical in order to drive innovation and openness across all layers of open and programmable software-defined networks.

For a while, skeptics have thought that open-source projects such as ODL (led by incumbent networking vendors) would not be effective, as there could be inherent biases that could hinder innovation. The recently concluded OpenDaylight Summit couldn’t have been timed any better as ODL delivered its first major release – Hydrogen – that included contributions from 150 developers in 14 projects and a million lines of code. By any standard, that is a great achievement for this vendor-led initiative, and kudos to ODL for pulling this off!

I attended the OpenDaylight Summit in Santa Clara on Feb. 4-5, 2014. Going into this first, one-of-its-kind event, my expectations were pretty low. I also felt that event registration was priced low so that ODL could first gauge the level of interest in the SDN community around the work happening in this forum. However, on Day One of the event, all my myths were busted, and in the case of this event, what you saw was not what you got. The OpenDaylight Summit was sold out with 600+ attendees. It involved broad SDN industry participation including major SDN forums such as ONF and ETSI NFV. This event refined my impression of ODL as a forum driven by people who are passionate about openness and want to contribute code to the community. These are the very founding principles that form the basis of ONF, of which my employer (Luxoft) is a member. That begged a question. Are ODL and ONF competing with each other, or are they complementary? I tried to search for an answer to this question during this event.

For a while I was thinking that ODL and ONF have some overlap. However, there were also areas where they complemented each other. In my mind, I described this industry dynamic as a “coopetition.” During the many discussions that happened throughout this summit, it became evident to me that there is a great deal of cooperation that is already happening between these two forums and, in fact, they are synergistic. I learned that Hydrogen was delayed as a result of the late inclusion of the OpenFlow 1.3.1 plugin in this release. Clearly, OpenFlow is valued to be a major southbound interface for the ODL controller. This also has real commercial ramifications. IBM (one of the founding members of ODL and a member of ONF) announced plans to update its DOVE controller with ODL Hydrogen, which will allow use of OpenFlow 1.3 in multi-vendor physical and virtual networks and will bring a wide range of network services to IBM’s Software Defined Networks for Virtual Environment (SDN VE) ecosystem. Another great example of cooperation between these two forums is the work that’s starting to happen around Northbound Interfaces (NBI). As was discussed during the NBI panel at the event, there are many areas of work that are under joint consideration such as the definition of the NBI, various latitudes, and designating the forum that can best serve the needs of an application. In order to bring together various elements of the SDN ecosystem, there were also discussions underway to include ODL Hydrogen controllers and OpenFlow 1.3 switches into demo showcases that are being planned this year.

In addition to great discussions around areas of cooperation, there were also healthy conversations about the role of forums in nurturing and fostering a vision of truly open SDN. During a panel discussion on how to manage standards and innovation, ONF Executive Director Dan Pitt articulated how standards are necessary at bottom layers of the SDN stack. However, proliferation of standards at all layers could stifle innovation. Dan also pointed out subtle differences between conformance and interoperability, and what standards can and should control. Dan rightly said that conformance (enforced through standards) does not assure interoperability. However, non-conformance definitely means non-interoperability. Indeed, some standardization at the lowest layers of the SDN stack will help in driving innovation at the higher layers, as interoperability wouldn’t be a nuisance.

In summary, I believe that as the charters of these two open forums are growing clearer through their deliverables, work happening today in ONF and ODL is synergistic, and many future areas in SDN will need further collaboration. Consortiums that can work together to cater to different layers of the network – and address the different roles of standards, architecture and code – will indeed advance the broader SDN movement.

– Ash Bhalgat, Senior Director of Products, Luxoft

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