Well-Connected User Group Wants Vendor Action on Open Networks

NEWS ANALYSIS: The Open Networking User Group is trying to wield its members' market power to convince vendors to develop truly open products that sharply reduce the cost of networking equipment.

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Corporate computing has changed significantly. Instead of buying boxes, users now can rent time from Amazon, Microsoft, Digital Ocean or from any number of other cloud service providers.

The devices used for corporate computing have gone mobile and shrunk to palm size. However, while the computers have moved to the cloud and the devices have evacuated the desktop to become smartphones, the networks that shuttle all that information along have not changed all that much. The big name networking vendors from 10 years ago are still the big names today.

The need for networking to catch up with the open, interoperable, software-driven corporate computing world has been evident for the past 25 years and now there is some evidence that the catch-up game is in operation.

Recently, I talked with Nick Lippis, co-founder of the Open Networking User Group (ONUG). ONUG is an interesting organization that sits in the middle of several trends. As its name suggests, the group is user focused and, in the ONUG case, the members represent some of the largest networking equipment purchasers including the Bank of America, FedEx and Fidelity Investments.

Where the OpenStack community gets dinged for representing interesting but smaller companies without a lot of financial clout and the Open Compute group is seen as representing the giant Internet companies whose needs and applications are several steps removed from corporate computing, ONUG members have the budgets and desire to change the networking dynamics.

"Right now we are at a significant transition point; networking architecture has to change," said Lippis.

That change includes a software-driven architecture where capabilities, capacity and bandwidth can be altered on the fly depending on user requirements. That change also includes interoperability and freedom from vendor lock-in, which has been more pronounced in networking than other compute segments.

The group highlighted its expectations, demands for lower capital and operational expenses in a white paper. "In the short term, a lower operational cost model (OPEX) on the order of 15-30 percent relief; longer term, a new definition of network OPEX based on real vendor support cost, rather than a fixed percentage of capital cost and capital expense or CAPEX cost relief on the order of 25-75 percent," were expectations highlighted in ONUG's white paper.

"Appliances have been stacking up in data centers," said Lippis, noting that throwing appliance boxes at networking needs only leads to both capital and operational expense increases and complexity without necessarily solving the network requirements.

While ONUG has clearly highlighted the cost factors, it may be the new capabilities enabled by open, software-based networks that are the bigger benefits. Lippis compared the possibilities offered by open networks to the rise of the Internet.

While Internet access and Internet management through standards such as SNMP did reduce the costs and confusion inherent in trying to manage multiple corporate networks, the economic upside associated with the Internet is evident to anyone using ecommerce or communicating globally via email.

Although getting vendors to show support for such a powerful group of customers is not difficult, the nitty gritty of developing and testing interoperability capabilities between various vendors' equipment will be more difficult.

The ONUG agenda is ambitious. The members wield power based on their corporate technology budgets and user-driven organizations are much stricter about making sure vendors don't slip proprietary hooks into supposedly compatible equipment.

The next steps for ONUG will be to take their white paper aspirations and pressure vendors to turn those aspirations into demonstrable, compatible products at reasonable prices. The users have an obligation to show that if those products and services become available, they will vote with their wallets. ONUG is an organization worth watching.

Eric Lundquist is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Lundquist, who was editor-in-chief at eWEEK (previously PC WEEK) from 1996-2008 authored this article for eWEEK to share his thoughts on technology, products and services. No investment advice is offered in this article. All duties are disclaimed. Lundquist works separately for a private investment firm which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this article and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.