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Open Networking: The Whale that swallowed SDN

Art Fewell | June 18, 2014
SDN and networking conversations today have become overloaded with hype. The future is no longer just about one approach to SDN but has become much bigger. Welcome to the Open Networking Revolution.

He recalled that the concept for OpenFlow began when working on systems that were critical to national security, with his frustration over the inability to freely code new solutions that would have solved critical challenges if networking products provided open development capabilities. Casado found that large numbers of organizations also shared in this desire to have the ability to innovate and differentiate in the network, forming the basis of the community that has helped OpenFlow grow to popularity.

Yet if we added a more open development environment to every switch in the market, it would be a big step forward, but would likely serve as little more than a temporary Band-Aid, never addressing the root cause of the problem.

To get to the deeper issues, we must ask just why it is that SDN has needed a huge counterculture movement just to get off the ground. Why did so many of the industries' largest consumers and most critical segments need to go to such great lengths to be heard, and what are the implications of this to the smaller and less well represented industry consumers? Why is it that networking's fork of the computer science discipline seems to have gotten so far from the best that computer science could offer?

These exact problems had already been faced during the transition from mainframe computers to mini's to today where computing hardware has become much more open, diverse and innovative.

The open computing model also caused the independent software market to explode by enabling anyone with an idea, ingenuity and drive to deliver new solutions that did not and could not exist under the closed and stifling conditions of the mainframe era. It is profoundly clear that closed mainframe-like conditions could not have resulted in today's open computer hardware and software markets which as a result have become the growth and innovation engine for the entire global economy.

An Industry with a Mainframe Mentality
Since well before the ONF was formed and even before OpenFlow was called OpenFlow, the core thrust of the entire SDN movement was never about promoting any specific SDN technology but has instead been about the larger goal of creating an open networking paradigm that would mirror the benefits of open computing.

To drive this point home, the director of Stanford's Clean Slate lab (where OpenFlow was born), Nick McKeown shared the following slides at the inaugural Open Networking Summit, highlighting the similarities between networking and legacy mainframes:

061714 art1

I am sure many of you who have followed SDN recognize this message as nothing new. Yet confusion around SDN remains rampant; industry conversations remain focused on competitive battles and lower-level technical details that don't have anything to do with creating a truly open ecosystem for networking and a core innovation engine for our industry that will keep it healthy, diverse and innovative going forward.


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