Microsoft and Google find common ground in open networking

Open Networking Foundation brings tech's heaviest hitters together

Arch-rivals Microsoft and Google occasionally find themselves on the same side, and another example presented itself this week with the creation of the Open Networking Foundation.

Along with Facebook, Verizon, Yahoo, Deutsche Telekom, and a dozen other companies, Microsoft and Google are aiming to promote "a new approach to networking called Software-Defined Networking," with the acronym SDN.  

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While Microsoft and Google are supporting the project now, the technology approach arises from six years of work done by Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley. SDN takes advantage of OpenFlow, a software interface that controls how packets are forwarded thorugh network switches, and a new set of management interfaces "upon which more advanced management tools can be built," the Open Networking Foundation says. 

"In the past two decades, enormous innovation has taken place on top of the Internet architecture," the group says. "Email, e-commerce, search, social networks, cloud computing, and the web as we know it are all good examples. While networking technologies have also evolved in this time, the ONF believes that more rapid innovation is needed. SDN fulfills this need by enabling innovation in all kinds of networks - including data centers, wide area telecommunication networks, wireless networks, enterprises and in homes - through relatively simple software changes. SDN thus gives owners and operators of networks better control over their networks, allowing them to optimize network behavior to best serve their and their customers' needs. For instance, in data centers SDN can be used to reduce energy usage by allowing some routers to be powered down during off-peak periods."

Why are Microsoft and Google involved?

Windows Azure general manager Arne Josefsberg explains that "As the owner and operator of one of the largest networks of data centers, Microsoft recognizes the potential of highly programmable network management systems to boost the capabilities of our cloud computing platform in a profound way." 

Google's senior vice president of engineering, Urs Hoezle, will be president and chairman of the board at the new foundation. "Software-Defined Networking will allow networks to evolve and improve more quickly than they can today," Hoezle predicted. 

While the six companies already mentioned (Microsoft, Google, Verizon, Yahoo, Deutsche Telekom and Facebook) form the board of directors, there are plenty of additional members. The membership includes Broadcom, Brocade, Ciena, Cisco, Citrix, Dell, Ericsson, Force10, HP, IBM, Juniper Networks, Marvell, NEC, Netgear, NTT, Riverbed Technology, Verizon and VMware. 

That last name is notable because of Microsoft's longstanding virtualization rivalry with VMware. Cisco and Brocade add some heavy-hitting networking muscle to this group as well. One of the only missing big names is Apple, but they're probably too busy working on iPad 3. 

Anyone can join, though, apparently. "Any individual or entity that shares the goals of ONF may join as an Adopter," which would seem to be a lower level of membership. The Adopter membership will set you back just $30,000 per year, a real bargain to get involved with such esteemed members of the tech industry. 

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.