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OpenFlow Seeks To Change The Networking World

New Open Networking Foundation has major players lined up behind open networking

A new foundation was announced yesterday to foster a new approach to networking.  The founding members of the foundation are: Deutsche Telekom, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Verizon, and Yahoo!. Besides these tech nobodies, here are some of the other companies that joined the foundation: Cisco, Brocade, Juniper Networks, HP, Broadcom, Ciena, Riverbed Technology, Force10, Citrix, Dell, Ericsson, IBM, Marvell, NEC, Netgear, NTT and VMware. The foundation is the Open Networking Foundation. The aim of the foundation is to promote Software Defined Networking (SDN) and the open source standard they are pushing is called OpenFlow.

With this who's who of tech companies behind the standard and the foundation, chances of its success would seem pretty high.  SDN and OpenFlow come out of a 6 year research collaboration between Standford University and The University of California at Berkeley (two blue blood tech schools). SDN works by separating the programming of routers and switches from underlying hardware. This approach could simplify the management of global data centers. For instance it could make it easier to redirect traffic around hardware failures. It could also be used to allow energy savings by identifying underused devices and shut them down when they are not needed.

The release says this about SDN:

Essential to SDN are two basic components: a software interface (called OpenFlow) for controlling how packets are forwarded through network switches, and a set of global management interfaces upon which more advanced management tools can be built. The first task of ONF will be to adopt and then lead the ongoing development of the OpenFlow standard (www.openflow.org) and encourage its adoption by freely licensing it to all member companies. ONF will then begin the process of defining global management interfaces.

The new standard promises to have far reaching effects. With the companies and organizations behind it, it will certainly have the clout it needs to move forward.  The fact that it will be open source is another big plus. But if you really think about it, with this line up of members, it had to be open. No one of these companies would want to give another an unfair advantage.

It is good to see the industry work this way. With a standard set it will be easy for everyone to use it and innovate.  We should be the real winners here. A single standard means our software will work better regardless of it is in the data center, on our mobile devices or in our house.

Of course widely supported standards have gotten derailed before.  Microsoft and even Cisco are well known for "embracing and extending" such standards to make them less than globally interoperable.  However, with so many lined up behind this one, I don't think that will be the case here. At least I hope not.

In the meantime we will see how SDN and OpenFlow start showing up in our networks.  Congrats and best wishes to the Open Networking Foundation.

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