Developers, Open Source Software Changing the Face of Networking

NEWS ANALYSIS: Most enterprises hold back while the big telecommunications companies are using open-source components to push the boundaries of Software Defined Networking.

SDN Rising 2

SANTA CLARA, Calf.—It's been five years since Marc Andreessen wrote an essay published in the Wall Street Journal that proclaimed "software is eating the world." By now, we can consider networking just about chewed and swallowed.

We are beginning to realize how much software-defined networking is changing everything. As ON.Lab Executive Director Guru Parulkar puts it, the "softwarization" of networking is not only changing how users manage networks, but everything the network touches.

More precisely, it is open-source software that is leading this movement. Open-source projects like the OpenDaylight and ONOS (Open Network Operating System) controllers and OPNFV (Open Platform for Platform for NFV) are driving new business, service and technology models, especially for telecommunications vendors.

Although the concept is less than seven years old and still growing fast, SDN (Software Defined Networking) is ready for prime time. The proof is the speed at which global carriers like AT&T, Verizon, Korea's KT and SK Telecom, China Unicom and NTT Communications are rebuilding their networks on the fly.

At the Open Networking Summit here, AT&T presented ECOMP, its "playbook" for orchestrating virtual network functions. ECOMP, which has been in use for a year, is built on open source and AT&T's own code. AT&T and the telcos also are heavily involved with CORD (Central Office Re-architected as Data Center), a new open reference design announced here that is built around ONOS. The CORD name is a mouthful, but it's apt. With ONOS and CORD, monolithic telecom "central offices" can be shrunk down to racks of commodity servers and switches running open software.

That level of commitment hasn't yet reached the enterprise, where there is interest, but very few deployments. The growing volume of open-source code is hard to digest. Rival open networking projects like the Open-Orchestrator Project and Open Source MANO are starting up as we speak, causing uncertainty among IT network administrators and business executives alike. Also there are very few enterprise use cases for SDN, so there's no motive for replacing tried and true—though expensive—proprietary gear, for now.

"There is a certain disappointment that we have not succeeded in bringing more enterprises to open networking," Parulkar said. "But it's a matter of time. For the large enterprise the economics are the same. They can't keep buying proprietary boxes and paying top dollar."

Ironically, the market for network gear from the big players like Cisco and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise could be disrupted, even though both are leaders in the open communities. They are not in danger in the enterprise yet.

But with network functions abstracted away as software, white box vendors like Pica8 and Edge-Core suddenly have more value for building out hyperscale networks for telcos and cloud providers.

Other vendors, such as Inocybe and Ciena, also are taking the opportunity to apply what Red Hat and Mirantis have done for Open Stack and creating their own distributions of OpenDaylight and ONOS, respectively.

What is happening in open networking is very similar to what is happening with containers and the cloud. The developer is now a first class citizen.

Networks no longer need to be managed by hardware. They can be coded, modeled and programmed, giving application developers much more control over how an app works without having to account for the network. More to the point, the same tools and methodologies being used today in cloud DevOps are being used to program networks. ONOS routers and switches run on containers in the cloud.

"It's the world of the developer right now," said Peter Levine, general manager of the Andreessen Horowitz venture capital, who spoke at the conference. "Infrastructure is fading away in favor of the application and that’s very much in favor of the developer. The developer has a new buying power in a company, and is [in] a very interesting place to start where products are getting adopted and used."

Scot Petersen is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. He has an extensive background in the technology field. Prior to joining Ziff Brothers, Scot was the editorial director, Business Applications & Architecture, at TechTarget. Before that, he was the director, Editorial Operations, at Ziff Davis Enterprise. While at Ziff Davis Media, he was a writer and editor at eWEEK. No investment advice is offered in his blog. All duties are disclaimed. Scot works for a private investment firm, which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this blog, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.

Scot Petersen

Scot Petersen

Scot Petersen is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Prior to joining Ziff Brothers, Scot was the editorial director, Business Applications & Architecture,...