Cisco, IBM, Microsoft Others Launch OpenDaylight SDN Project

Almost two-dozen vendors, including Intel and Juniper, will work with the Linux Foundation to create a common, open platform for SDN.

Cisco Systems, IBM, Juniper Networks and Brocade are among the more than a dozen technology vendors that are working with the Linux Foundation to create an open-source platform for software-defined networks.

The Linux Foundation and the 18 companies that are founding members of the OpenDaylight Project announced the effort April 8, comparing what they hope to accomplish to other recent open-source efforts, such as Hadoop for big data and the OpenStack cloud computing platform.

Such initiatives are part of a trend in how people are building software and creating products, according to Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation. Vendors are finding that innovation is accelerated when they work together in developing an open framework that they can then build differentiated products atop.

“Today, that same fundamental change is coming to the network,” Zemlin said in a recent conference call with journalists and analysts to discuss the OpenDaylight Project. “Now that trend is coming to SDN.”

Such trends as cloud computing and virtualization have been driving a move toward more software-based computing in the data center, as businesses look for more flexible, scalable and agile infrastructures. Over the past several years, the virtualization trend has taken hold in servers and storage devices, but for the most part, networking has remained static and hardware-based.

That is beginning to change with the advent of software-defined networking (SDN), which promises greater flexibility, scalability and programmability by removing much of the network intelligence from expensive, complex switches and routers and putting them into software-based controllers. Established networking vendors, from Cisco and Juniper to Hewlett-Packard and Brocade, are rolling out their own SDN initiatives.

At the same time, a growing cadre of smaller companies and startups—including Big Switch Networks, Arista Networks and Plexxi—are entering the market with their own SDN offerings. In addition, companies like VMware (with its $1.26 billion acquisition last year of SDN startup Nicira), Dell and Oracle are looking to add SDN capabilities to their larger data center solution efforts. Oracle, which bought Xsigo last year, on April 3 unveiled its new Oracle Virtual Networking fabric SDN offering.

During the press briefing on the OpenDaylight Project, Zemlin and officials with participating vendors talked about the need for an open, common SDN platform—which includes such areas as the controller platform and southbound interfaces and protocols to network applications, user interfaces and data plane elements, including virtual switches and physical device interfaces.

With such a common platform in place, vendors can then compete at higher levels—such as applications that run atop the SDN platform—that bring more value to end users, Zemlin said.

It also could remove some of the inhibitors that have kept some businesses from adopting SDN, he said. Some organizations worry that by choosing an SDN offering from a particular vendor, they will be locked into that vendor’s entire portfolio. By offering a common, open SDN platform, businesses will know they can leverage technologies from multiple vendors, Zemlin said.

“You need interoperability [to] take away inhibitors,” he said.

The participating vendors represent a broad sampling of the data center technology space, from networking vendors Big Switch, Arista and Nuage Networks to data center solutions companies like HP, Dell, VMware and NEC. Other vendors include Microsoft, Red Hat, Citrix Systems, Ericsson, Fujitsu, Intel and PlumGrid.

The vendors are donating everything from software, code and architectural expertise to engineering help and open-source versions of their technologies. The goal is to “combine R&D in a single effort” to accelerate innovation and help vendors reduce overall costs, Zemlin said. Whatever is offered by the vendors will be reviewed by the OpenDaylight Technical Steering Committee to determine whether they will be included in the project.

The projects will touch on everything from an open controller and protocol plug-ins to a virtual overlay network and switch device enhancements. The first code from the OpenDaylight Project is expected in the third quarter.

Zemlin and officials with some of the vendors involved said the group has been working with the Open Network Foundation—which helped develop the OpenFlow controller protocol, which has been adopted by a growing number of vendors—in creating the OpenDaylight Project. What comes out of the initiative will complement what the ONF is working on, according to Andrew Harding, senior director of product marketing at Big Switch.