Open Networking Summit 2012 Day 1 Recap, part 1.

The 2nd ever Open Networking Summit got started with a bang this week, selling out a forum that was double the capacity of the previous conference. SDN popularity is exploding and the presentations from this industry-leading event were worth their weight in gold. I am doing my best to capture the most salient points in summaries and my personal notes from all of the presentations.

Open networking summit (ONS) started off its 2nd conference this week. With the initial ONS conference only 6 months prior, it was noteworthy when ONS Chair Guru Parulkar reported that the Summit's new venue more than doubled the seating capacity, yet the venue still sold out with a growing waiting list.

On the first day of the previous ONS in October of 2011, the halls of Stanford seemed to be filled with a fog of skepticism as the industries' thought leadership converged to learn more about OpenFlow and the newly minted Open Networking Foundation. As the 2011 conference proceeded through day 3, the feeling in the crowd, the conversations, and the questions asked of the presenters, morphed. In just a few days, the skepticism of the audience turned toward hope, and then to excitement as the realization of the many, fundamentally new possibilities that Software Defined Networking can provide sunk in and the creative minds of engineers and architects started envisioning what they could create with this new architectural approach.

At the first day of the general conference sessions on Tuesday, the feeling in the air was entirely different, while there was a huge influx of new conference participants, there was no longer a fog of skepticism, but from the start there has been a feeling of interest and enthusiasm. The conference was no longer simply about convincing people that SDN is a good approach, but it started off on the fast path to fill eager minds with information on OpenFlow, and the day ended with the beginnings of the next era of technologies that Open Networking has started to enable.

The excitement of the day got off to a supercharged start by the morning's first keynote. Google SVP Urs Hölzle kicked off the morning with a powerful presentation describing how Google transitioned their largest global backbone to a 100% Openflow Network. I wrote a separate post attempting to summarize this presentation here: Google PWNs Networking.  No summarization can do this presentation justice, I highly recommending keeping an eye on the ONS website, a video of the presentation should be posted when they finish editing, I will update this post with a link once the video is available. 

"Today all Google inter-data center network is running on the new network, the old network is turned off" Urs Hölzle

Next up, NEC Chairman Kaoru Yano provided a great presentation titled "SDN is ready to go" , and this title really captured the spirit of the presentation. Yano-san provided a history of NEC's early insight and leadership as the first major commercial vendor to provide comprehensive OpenFlow based solutions. NEC's leadership in this area provides great proof points of just how mature that OpenFlow actually is, raising the bar on what customers should be expecting from their vendors, and really leaving no excuses for legacy vendors to use technical limitations as justification not to embrace SDN. Yano-san noted how SDN will ideally mark a new era of open innovation in the networking industry signaling the transition from a vertically integrated, single vendor stack to a model with unbundled, clean and open abstractions that will allow an entire industry and ecosystem to develop and flourish. Yano-san also provided updates on the tremendous success that early adopters of OpenFlow have been able to benefit from, here is one example:

Next, Open Networking Foundation Chair Dan Pitt gave an excellent presentation not only raising the bar for what a standards body should be, but also continued to demonstrate that ONF represents an entirely new type of organization which rather than having a focus simply on creating standards, has a much more mature and meaningful focus of creating a vibrant and healthy SDN ecosystem. At the previous ONS event, Pitt gave a great overview of the structure of ONF, and how it was designed in effort to learn from both the strengths and weaknesses of both industry working groups and technology movements. In his presentation Tuesday Pitt provided a bullish update showcasing the proof points from the efficacy of this exciting new model for community leadership. Pitt's approach reminds me of the new definition of leadership that many world leaders are recognizing is needed to facilitate healthy and vibrant ecosystems. This new definition of leadership is no longer about highly individualistic approaches, but rather more of a shepherding approach where leadership is defined not by being the biggest ego, but by being the one who does whatever is needed for the benefit of the community. This approach is summarized eloquently by MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito in this brief video.

Next, Yahoo! Principal Architect Igor Gashinsky provided insight and evidence into the tremendous challenges facing cloud service providers with traditional networking. Gashinsky noted that Yahoo is now facing serious limitations with scalability, manageability, and most importantly if capabilities don't improve it will impose limits on customer experience and desired feature support.

Gashinsky noted that an SDN model would lead towards the usage of intelligent agents to create self-healing fabrics. Specifically making recommendations for local testing and repair agents, and also noted the significant impact that having a centralized controller with full visibility to the network will have on performance and support for networks.

Nicira co-founder and CTO Martin Casado engaged the audience with an interesting discussion on the role of overlay networks in the modern data center, observing that the computing industry is in an "Era of Overlays". Casado noted that often, network provisioning and feature support imposes delays and limitations within application environments, and that software or hypervisor based tunneling mechanisms provide an agile and effective mechanism for helping to address these challenges. He addressed concerns that overlay models had scalability and performance challenges by noting that efficient software architecture combined with advancements in CPU technology can effectively address these concerns. Also, Casado noted, overlay models will evolve and are not the answer to all networking problems, observing that solutions that can use SDN to orchestrate virtual switching topologies and select management functions such as configuration management for physical fabrics will be able to optimize the best combination of mechanisms to solve business challenges.

Dell CTO Geng Lin gave an excellent presentation honing in on the vast and broad ecosystem requirements to evolve the entire networking industry, evolve end user knowledge and capabilities, as well as creating fundamentally new ecosystem components to sully support and re-optimize the networking industry for software-defined networking.

Dr. Lin noted that SDN not only offers tremendous value for consumers, but also for manufacturers, suppliers, and every part of the overall ecosystem. He then highlighted an interesting use case for multi-tenant data centers that Dell demonstrated. At the 2011 summit Dell demonstrated an earlier version of their SDN platform which showcased the ability to dynamically provision multi-tenant workloads creating isolated network segments on a common infrastructure,  API integration of their private cloud orchestration solution with the Big Switch Networks openflow controller, and dynamic elastic workload provisioning including automatic provisioning of virtual load balancer's and virtual pre-tuned firewall policies between security zones. This years demonstration added a unique software solution from Dell as they observed that SDN's will grow to support api integration with multiple orchestration tools or northbound services. Dell's "connection manager" software provides a novel mechanism to receive and consolidate requests for network state changes and presenting a consolidated view of network state change requests to and from higher level services. In this demonstration Dell showcased how both OpenStack and Dell's AIM orchestrator can simultaneously provision and orchestrate workloads across a common network infrastructure with common tools, while also being able to carve isolated and multi-tenant network segments across a common infrastructure. Please note, I am a Dell employee but this column provides my personal opinions.

Big Switch Networks CEO Guido Appenzellar delivered an excellent presentation highlighting what I think is the most important point about SDN, noting that the biggest threat to the movement is proprietary approaches.

<soapbox> Don't mean to sidetrack, but I think this subject is so important I thought I should step on my virtual soapbox. A key theme in all the OpenFlow and SDN conferences and presentations has been that the networking industry is suffering because it has been stuck in a closed and proprietary stranglehold with a vertically integrated stack, resulting in a situation where applications have been needing to solve network challenges, and networking has been missing on many common developments that greatly improve performance, manageability, stability etc in computing. It is important to note that the trend of consumerization is not about spoiled end users that want cool gadgets, that is part of it, but the bigger and much more important problem is that globalization and the internet have created substantial increases in competition and huge shifts in consumer behavior, the breakneck pace of IT growth that business leaders are demanding is not just because they want to scrutinize and penny pinch, but rather because of the massive pressures being placed on businesses by competition and continuous innovation cycles. In the past proprietary was an annoyance, but the new and increasingly critical requirements for businesses in the cloud era will include the mandate to move toward hybrid and community clouds, rapid integration with loose couplings of just in time supply and innovation chains, and this only works on open frameworks. This entire movement is fueled by the widely recognized need to promote open and healthy industries to fuel continuous innovation, which is so desperately needed in the national and global economy today. I really don't care what brand or what open source project gets adopted, but it is my deeply held belief that continued focus into highly proprietary architectures not only pisses all over the vision of the open internet, but more importantly, as the need to rapidly integrate supply and innovation chain partners in community clouds, or recognize the cost efficiencies with hybrid cloud models, proprietary network and compute architectures can seriously threaten the success of your business. Standards have always been important, but in the cloud era, they are imperative. </soapbox>

Dr. Appenzellar went on to showcase several interesting use cases with the Big Switch Controller. First he noted that as enterprises move towards virtualization, the increased ease of virtual machine migration and provisioning can increase network trouble tickets by 3x-6x. Ho noted that the network virtualization capabilities of the Big Switch Controller allow for these to be substantially reduced or eliminated as the controller allows the network to dynamically morph to the needs of the application. Second, Appenzellar highlighted a use case for vArmour, showing that the need to provide dynamic network services in Data Centers is challenged by the old stovepipe model of network service enforcement which requires traffic flows to be entirely rerouted towards physical network service appliances. The vArmour example showcased how SDN can instantiate virtual firewall enforcement dynamically at the ingress switch to allow dynamic service enforcement with an optimized forwarding path.

I have been strapped for time, but I will try to get summaries and my notes from the rest of the presentation posted over the next day or 2 ... stay tuned :)

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