ONF Launches Network Tapping Tool for SDN Education

The industry standards group releases the SampleTap application to help programmers in their work with SDN.

The Open Networking Foundation is offering a new open networking tapping application as an educational tool for programmers as they develop solutions for software-defined networks.

The organization, which promotes the development and adoption of software-defined networks (SDNs) using the OpenFlow protocol, is demonstrating the new ONF SampleTap application March 3-5 at the Open Networking Summit in Santa Clara, Calif.

ONF officials are not looking to commercialize the SampleTap application, which would pit it against many of its 137 members, including Cisco Systems, Big Switch Networks, IBM and Hewlett-Packard, which offer their own tapping solutions for monitoring networks. Instead, the nonprofit group wanted to give programmers something they could use in test situations and on live networks as a learning tool in their own work with SDN.

"In evaluating potential educational applications, we selected network tapping as it is broadly understood and easily deployable by network operators," ONF Executive Director Dan Pitt said in a statement. "We see our app as an OpenFlow teaching tool that allows network operators to get experience with OpenFlow without changing how they actually do the switching and routing, since tapping doesn’t use OpenFlow for forwarding."

The ONF is one of a number of industry organizations developing standards and tools aimed at fueling the adoption of SDN in enterprises and server provider environments. SDN decouples the control plane from the underlying physical hardware, creating networks that are much more programmable, scalable, flexible and cost-effective than current legacy infrastructures, in which network intelligence and services are housed in expensive and proprietary switches and routers.

The push for more dynamic and automated networks that help organizations deal with changing demands brought on by such trends as cloud computing, big data and the consumerization of IT has also given rise to network-function virtualization (NFV), which was a significant topic at the recent Mobile World Congress 2014 event. With NFV, many of the network services that now reside on hardware—such as load balancing, firewalls and deep-packet inspection—can now be virtualized into software.

SDN is a relatively new technology, though it is expected to grow rapidly over the next few years. Analysts at Infonetics Research are forecasting that the market will hit $3.1 billion by 2017, while market research firm ReportsnReports said in a report that the SDN, NFV and network virtualization market as a whole will reach $4 billion this year. A recent survey by Quinstreet Enterprise, which publishes eWEEK, found that while enterprise interest in SDN is high, it's still an emerging technology and widespread adoption will take time.

The ONF and other industry groups, including the OpenDaylight Project, are pushing open standards as a way of driving that adoption. The ONF worked with Wiretap Labs to create the SampleTap application, and the company's engineers documented the development process. The work will be outlined in a series of posts on the ONF blog beginning in the third week of March, giving programmers a look at the process.

SampleTap was built using OpenFlow-certified networking switches from NEC, and is based on the OpenFlow 1.0 specification to run on an OpenDaylight SDN controller. Work on the application began before OpenDaylight released its Hydrogen SDN platform in early February. Hydrogen supports OpenFlow 1.3, but ONF officials said SimpleTap was made to support versions of OpenFlow that come after 1.0. It also will be easy to port to other network operating systems, they said.

"We hear tremendous interest from users who want to test OpenFlow in their networks and this app is the perfect way for them to get started," Neela Jacques, executive director of OpenDaylight, said in a statement.

The SampleTap application and an installation guide will be available in the ONF's GitHub repository within 30 days, officials said.