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Clarifying the role of software-defined networking northbound APIs

John Dix | May 3, 2013
Robert Sherwood, CTO of Big Switch Networks and head of the ONF's Architecture and Framework Working Group, talk about the role of software-defined networking northbound APIs

SHERWOOD: Let me be very specific as to what my working group is doing. Right now we're only categorizing the APIs and documenting what exists. We aren't trying yet to standardize them. One could imagine that would be a subsequent step. It is my personal belief that we don't need to do this because a standard API doesn't exist in the PC operating system world or in the mobile phone market, and if we're half as successful as those markets then I'll be pretty happy.

It's really easy to pick a standard and say -- OK, this is it, we're done. But my concern is that if we pick something now it will be wrong or incomplete. That can cause as much or more damage as not picking something soon enough.

NW: If a company ends up with controllers from multiple suppliers, would there be a way of federating them in some sense, to reach some form of interoperability without having standard northbound APIs?

SHERWOOD: Certainly we spend a fair amount of time thinking about that, particularly with my ONF hat on. It's actually interesting to take a slightly different question and come back to it.

So quite often in a controller we have to integrate with other legacy protocols, OSPF or BGP, or something like that. So our controller already knows how to talk with non-SDN devices, and my claim is that other people building controllers will have to do the same thing. So if my controller is willing to speak BGP to something, and another controller is willing to speak BGP to me, that could actually be some sort of lingua franca between us.

NW: OK. Anything else regarding this whole topic?

SHERWOOD: I'm really more of a programmer than what I'd call a standards wonk, and I think the exactly wrong thing to do is standardize first and develop later. That's someone saying they have the answer and we should set it in stone. I think there's still a lot of development and experimentation that needs to be done. So that's how I fill a lot of my time, just trying to develop and experiment with these APIs.

NW: Are there other people you're working with that are fighting to do the opposite?

SHERWOOD: There's certainly a tension back and forth. It really comes down to how right you think you are. There are people who believe they are right, they have seen the light and if everyone would just agree, the API should be their way. I think that's going to be true independent of this topic in any significant body of people. I'm a little more pragmatic, much more the old rough consensus and running code perspective We'll see what happens.


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