Open Networking Summit Day 1 Recap

Open Networking Summit kicked off today @ Stanford University: Update from Day 1

Tech industry leaders converged on Stanford University today to kick off the 2011 Open Networking Summit. It has been a big year for Open Networking, and the sell-out crowd at Stanford attests to the rising popularity and influence of the Open Networking Foundation. Today, the meetings were broken out into two separate tracks, a technical track, and a managerial track focused on use cases and value proposition. I attended the latter, and was able to record all of the sessions, so stay tuned here and I will be uploading and providing links to all of the sessions over the next few days.

If there was one major theme or takeaway I got from today, it would be that Software Defined Networking is here to stay, and will define the future of networking. Kyle Forster of Big Switch Networks emceed the managers' session opening with an industry panel that included todays speakers: Christopher Liljenstolp,  Matt Davy, Paul Lappas and Peter Krey.

Kyle Forster started the first session, and highlighted that the key to OpenFlow is its simplicity. Forster noted that it is possible today to automate networks in a similar manner to what can be accomplished with OpenFlow, but with a lot more complexity. Maintaining accurate device state, synchronizing feature implementations, validating applied configurations, checking for errors and rolling back configurations are simply difficult computer science problems for distributed systems across the board. Forster noted that OpenFlow's controller based model consolidates the amount of managed devices and was purpose built for distributed computing, allowing it to streamline systems management requirements while maintaining operational simplicity.

Christopher Liljenstolpe focused on how OpenFlow can provide benefits to telco and carrier network providers. Liljenstolpe highlighted what he called the "unhappy curve" which showed how drastically the costs of carrier data services are declining. His main point was with increasing cost pressures, carrier's need a less expensive way to build and provision networks. Liljenstolpe noted that the cost of high speed switched Ethernet ports are significantly less than MPLS P or PE router ports, and when paired with OpenFlow the solution can provide greater agility in provisioning and superior traffic handling at a much lower cost. This was demonstrated by a truly excellent demonstration from Stanford Grad Students Saurav Das and Ali Sharafat, who had an amazing program that allowed the provisioning of MPLS TE Tunnels and VPN's over an OpenFlow Network. I got to get my hands on their app and was able to provision a simulated national-scale MPLS VPN network with only a few mouse-clicks. I will post the video of the demo tomorrow.  Liljenstolpe also highlighted what he called "Cloud-Speed" vpn provisioning, which sounds very similar to the demo by Dell and Big Switch Networks which uses OpenFlow to dynamically provision a IAAS cloud based physical server to appear on a customer's L2 segment.

In a Q&A with Kyle Forster, Matt Davy covered the complexity of the requirements posed on the Indiana University network, and how OpenFlow is helping to solve the challenge. Davy noted that the IU system has over 8 campuses, the largest of which has over 40,000 students, nearly each with smartphones, notebooks and an increasing amount of other devices. The IU network has to simultaneously handle state-of-the-art supercomputing, thousands of video game consoles, business and back office systems, and even requirements as diverse as medical grade and imaging networks for IU's medical schools and facilities. Davy noted that he has long felt that network engineers need to change from an element-by-element administration to something more streamlined. He noted that OpenFlow has great promise stating that "we need to manage entire networks the way we manage a single node today."

Paul Lappas brought out several interesting points, the first of which he called Infrastructure as Code. This is based on the idea that an OpenFlow network can be completely virtualized, allowing for infrastructure devices to be racked and cabled a single time, and then be dynamically configured to have any topology through the use of code. Commenting on the possibilities of OpenFlow, Lappas noted it could potentially allow him to "rebuild my entire infrastructure across any cloud provider in less than an hour".

Finally, IT consultant Peter Krey delivered an excellent presentation highlighting the tremendous possibilities for business and economic value with OpenFlow. Krey said that he felt that "Openflow is completely inevitable and probably unstoppable". He sees OpenFlow as a key tool to enable innovation in enterprise IT departments. "Enterprise IT puts the 'no' in innovation" noted Krey, observing that enterprises have a business imperative to innovate in IT. Krey noted "The rate of innovation around open projects is orders of magnitude faster than closed and proprietary projects." Krey went further to highlight the simplicity with which network features can be built from the ground up on popular open source OpenFlow controllers. His presentation listed numerous open source development tools, and simple development environments that allow network programming in C, C++, Perl and Python among others. Krey also delivered some compelling financial metrics supporting OpenFlow. In response to an audience question about how fast OpenFlow will gain enterprise adoption, Krey noted that in his experience projects that have substantial cost savings, such as OpenFlow, can generally overcome almost any objection.

Overall it was an excellent day of presentations, which left me convinced about the significant implications that OpenFlow and Software Defined Networking will have on the networking industry for years to come. I also found the large quantity of Cisco employees interesting. I have been critical of Cisco at times mostly due to their heavy use of proprietary technologies, so it was encouraging to see their participation. Open Computing Systems and the Open Source movement have brought tremendous innovation to their respective industries and have enabled technologies that have impacted all our lives; now is the time for Open Networking to take center stage.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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