A nonprofit group led by some of the earliest developers of software-defined networking next month will make available an open operating system for the industry, the latest effort to bring the open-source model into the software-defined networking (SDN) world.
The Open Networking Lab (ON.Lab), created by researchers from Stanford and the University of California Berkeley who helped initially develop SDN technology, on Nov. 4 announced the Open Network Operating System (ONOS), which will be available for download Dec. 5.
The ONOS effort, backed by such top-tier tech vendors as Intel, Fujitsu and Huawei and carriers AT&T and NTT Communications, joins such initiatives as OpenDaylight and the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), which also are looking to develop open SDN platforms that vendors can leverage. At the same time, smaller vendors like Midokura and startup Akanda are open-sourcing their network virtualization technology in hopes of accelerating adoption.
The ONF is supporting the ONOS initiative.
The problem with efforts like OpenDaylight, a Linux Foundation project that was launched last year by Cisco Systems, IBM and other tech companies, is that they’re relying on technologies developed by established vendors that are threatened by SDN and network-functions virtualization (NFV), according to Ram Appalaraju, strategic advisor to ON.Lab.
“If you look at SDN today, it is built upon proprietary architectures and proprietary OSes,” Appalaraju told eWEEK. “Today, a lot of the development is being done by vendors.”
ONOS is designed to let users leverage the legacy infrastructure already in their data centers while beginning to make the move to SDN. The technology is initially being aimed at service providers, with the intent of expanding its reach to cloud service providers and enterprises. Targeting carriers and service providers makes sense, according to Mike Fratto, principal analyst with Current Analysis.
“That is where the money and activity is right now and the carriers are really exploring SDN/NFV with proof of concepts not only that the technology works but that it integrates with their existing management and back-office systems,” Fratto said in an email to eWEEK. “That’s critical for them. SPs have already automated a lot of their systems, and they have management systems that are very, very old, which they still need to support.”
SDN and NFV promise more flexible, agile and programmable networks by removing network intelligence from expensive and complex proprietary networking gear and putting it into software that can run on more affordable commodity hardware. Almost every data center tech vendor is building out their SDN platforms, and a growing number of smaller vendors also are looking to gain traction in the fast-growing market. At the same time, companies like Cisco, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and IBM also are backing such efforts as OpenDaylight and ONF.
ONOS includes an SDN control plane that includes northbound and southbound open APIs and an array of management, control and service capabilities. ON.Lab officials are positioning the platform as both operating and capital expense plays for carriers, enabling them to leverage any hardware—including white-box systems—to develop and deploy services. In addition, the service providers can migrate to SDN at their own pace.
ON.Lab’s Appalaraju said ONOS will help “connect the legacy hardware [carriers] have … to the white boxes of the future.”
ON.Lab Unveils Open-Source SDN OS
The key for ON.Labs will be getting traction in the market, which will lead to integration and engineering, according to Current Analysis’ Fratto. Carriers tend to get their equipment from multiple sources to avoid vendor lock-in, and to run their systems for many years. Open-source software can help address some of those issues, he said.
The need for an ecosystem of integrated products is what is driving the push around open source in SDN, Fratto said.
“You can’t really sell an SDN product in isolation,” Fratto said. “Whether you’re talking about the service provider market or enterprise, the important part of SDN is ‘software.’ That means software integration with other IT subsystems. Without that, it’s just another networking technology with limited value.”
John Fruehe, an analyst with Moor Insights and Strategy, told eWEEK that carriers and enterprises are looking to SDN to help them cut capital and operating expenses that come with proprietary networking systems from the likes of Cisco and Juniper Networks. However, he is unsure whether white-box makers will see a significant boon from the push for SDN and open source.
Large Web companies like Google and Facebook have the IT resources to leverage white boxes in their data centers, Fruehe said. However, while mainstream enterprises want to lower their costs and improve their networking agility, they also want the support and accountability that comes with dealing with top vendors. The happy medium between their current legacy infrastructures and white boxes is what most businesses are looking to find, he said.
Fruehe also cautioned against expecting that virtualizing the networking infrastructure and leveraging lower-cost commodity hardware will be as straightforward as virtualizing servers and storage systems.
“Server and storage are endpoints,” he said. “Networking is the mesh that ties them together. End points can be isolated pretty easily.”