Big Switch lowers forecast for OpenDaylight SDN effort

OpenFlow pioneer scales down role in Cisco-IBM founded software-defined networking group


Big Switch, shown originally as a "Platinum" member of OpenDaylight

Citing concerns over technical and market direction, Big Switch Networks has downgraded its participation in the OpenDaylight consortium, a multivendor effort to define an open source SDN framework.

Big Switch has gone from being a top-tier "Platinum" member of OpenDaylight to a "Silver" member, which is little more than a "token" observer representation, said Jason Matlof, vice president of marketing for Big Switch. It has also relinquished its seat on the OpenDaylight board.

OpenDaylight was founded by Cisco and IBM, and includes other major IT vendors. It is operating under the auspices of The Linux Foundation, a nonprofit consortium dedicated to fostering the growth of the open source operating system Linux.

But OpenDaylight's agenda has come into question given Cisco's dominant incumbency in switching and routing, its stated aversion to the popular OpenFlow SDN protocol (, 1:17 mark), and intentions to offer its own controller technology as the basis for OpenDaylight.

[ SINCE THEN: Cisco's OpenFlow basher jumps to Big Switch ]

Big Switch's business banks on OpenFlow. And despite OpenDaylight's apparent inclusion of OpenFlow, it wasn't convincing.

OpenDaylight is "not in the best interest of the industry or as a technical place to start," Matlof says in explaining Big Switch's decision. "We're focusing on OpenFlow fabrics with 'bare metal' (a.k.a. commodity whitebox) switches."

One analyst said it's "early in the process" for OpenDaylight so one high-ranking vendor effectively jumping ship doesn't cripple the entire project. Indeed, OpenDaylight this week announced that Cyan, Huawei, Inocybe Technologies, Plexxi and Radware have joined the consortium, all as "Silver" members.

Nonetheless, Big Switch's decision "doesn't bode well" for OpenDaylight, said Joe Skorupa of Gartner. Dell, also a "Silver" member of OpenDaylight, said it formed its own SDN collaboration in the Object Management Group after concerns about the consortium's origins.

Skorupa's expectations for the project were low.

"We didn't believe anything would come of it anyway," he said. "The majority of people there (vendors with their own SDN controllers) have no intention of using any output from OpenDaylight.

"The whole thing around OpenDaylight is for the have-nots to catch up to the haves," Skorupa said.

IBM in April said to judge OpenDaylight on its accomplishments, not its make-up.

Matlof said Big Switch is more aligned with the objectives of Facebook's Open Compute project, which seeks to essentially open source hardware, specifically server hardware.

That wouldn't be in the best interests of OpenDaylight founding members IBM and Cisco, or of "Silver" members HP and Dell, despite the open source trappings of the consortium.

"Linux started as a user driven movement, and the Linux Foundation shepherded that community," Matlof said. "OpenDaylight is a small group of incumbent vendors deemed to be in the community interest."

Big Switch's decision and stand caught the Linux Foundation by surprise.

"They've been very, very involved and that the base architecture is shaping up to be a truly collaborative effort," a spokesperson said. "You can see their participation and all the conversations on the mailing lists and you can see some of the relevant updates on the wiki."

UPDATE: The OpenDaylight Project didn't pull any punches in interpreting Big Switch's decision.

"As much as Big Switch Networks would like to paint this as some sort of David vs Goliath struggle, the facts simply don't support it," a spokesperson e-mailed to Network World. "It's more accurate to say this is open source vs the goals of a single, for-profit startup. In this case the developer community combined technology from multiple sources (including Big Switch) which the company obviously didn't like. Open source is based on compromise and working together. Sometimes strong motivations and investor goals can get in the way of that. In the spirit of open source, we fully expect Big Switch to honor its commitments to this project. We also hope Big Switch will continue to engage in the community discussions as more eyes on code and more suggestions and alternative approaches in the long run produce the strongest code. We've said many times before that the beauty of the open source software development model is the best code always wins - we never said one company had the best, entire codebase."

Jim Duffy has been covering technology for over 25 years, 21 at Network World. He also writes The Cisco Connection blog and can be reached on Twitter @Jim_Duffy.

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