Dan Pitt, ONF Executive Director, predicts faster app development and greater software focus for 2014

Date: Wed, 01/08/2014 - 18:58 Source: By Dan Pitt, ONF Executive Director

Developers of SDN-related application, orchestration, and management software that have been begging for more guidance on Northbound APIs will be delighted to hear that the ONF’s recently formed Northbound Interfaces Working Group has already illustrated the different levels of abstraction (latitudes) and use cases (longitudes) and will be publishing its NBI information models in 2014, accompanied by open-source working code for select use cases

Dan Pitt, ONF Executive Director, predicts faster app development and greater software focus for 2014

Dan Pitt, ONF Executive Director

Image credited to NetEvents

This is just one piece of good news gleaned from a recent interview I had with ONF Executive Director Dan Pitt on his views about the SDN landscape in 2014. Other topics covered interoperability, the changing vendor landscape, SDN education, OpenStack plug-ins, security, and an overall emphasis on the software driving SDN.
Tackling one of the biggest concerns around, Dan pointed out that the flow-analysis and control-plane capabilities of SDN are beginning to shape some of the most promising new approaches to network security – going beyond static rule-based policies to create self-defending systems using dynamic flow management. For example, SE-Floodlight, developed by the Floodlight community along with other SDN work, is an open-source security-enhanced SDN controller, pointing the way to further development of OpenFlow security mechanisms to address tough security issues such as BYOD and DDoS attacks. These can be based on detailed analysis of network data to identify threat patterns and the ability to respond dynamically and divert or ditch any threats.
This is not just a promising line for future work; it has already been put into practice at Ballarat Grammar School in Australia – tackling a BYOD nightmare involving over 1500 pupils and staff. As an initial experiment it was a simple case of running HP OpenFlow enabled switches in hybrid mode, leaving the entire network operation untouched but diverting DNS traffic (identified using flow identifiers conveyed by the OpenFlow protocol) to the central controller for inspection. With no noticeable response delay, the system purged thousands of threats in its very first day, while automating a raft of tedious manual tasks. It also made it possible to discipline usage of social sites like FaceBook during school hours – a very simple example, but one that does show how much can be achieved with very little SDN effort.
Data analysis from network tapping is an obvious starting point for SDN applications, a market that Dan really expects to come to life in 2014. Flows can be redirected as at Ballarat Grammar, or mirrored to a controller for traffic engineering, efficiency, and superior customer experience in addition to security purposes. The network can then be made to respond to the analysis – e.g., for NFV service chaining. Dan welcomes all these new applications, open or proprietary but especially the former, helping fuel greater competition and learning.
This growth in actual applications Dan sees as especially significant, to the extent that 2014 will come to be seen as “the year that put the S in SDN” – marking a maturation from the initial emphasis on the OpenFlow infrastructure to a growing focus on the software applications and services that the system can support. Think back to the 1980s when the IT market began to be inundated with applications from specialist software developers that could run on computers from different vendors. Dan sees a similar revolution in the network space emerging during 2014.
You might think from all the hype that everything has already been said about SDN, but no. Expect to see SDN and NFV topics continuing to dominate IT conference agendas, and, perhaps more positively, training and certification organizations will be stepping up their educational programs to meet a growing demand for a deeper understanding of the subject from developers and, indeed, end users. This year’s free six week MOOC on SDN organized by Coursera and Georgia Tech's School of Computer Science was an outstanding success and will be followed by more of the same in 2014 – while ONF remains eager to see SDN feature in undergraduate computer science programs, as it has at Berkeley and Stanford.
Moving to the market arena, Dan predicts that by the end of 2014 all serious commercial Ethernet switches will include an OpenFlow client – from a marketing perspective it will soon cost more not to have that feature than to have it. Every vendor will also be, at least, announcing an OpenStack plug in – something very attractive to cloud service providers for a cloud operating system controlling pools of storage, networking, and computing resources across a datacenter.
Another growing emphasis will be on interoperability. ONF has launched an OpenFlow Conformance Testing Program, enabling vendors to demonstrate their products’ conformance to the standard. There are already two conformance testing labs in the US, one in China, and one in India, and in October an NEC product received the first Certificate of Conformance. In the coming year, as OpenFlow conformance becomes a marketing necessity, we’ll see more open standard products.
Who will be driving SDN adoption? Drawing attention to AT&T’s Domain 2.0 initiative that will use SDN and NFV technologies and architectural approaches to simplify and scale its network, Dan predicts that it will continue to be the telcos driving growth in both SDN and NFV, and ONF plans to help these operators by enabling NFV with SDN and OpenFlow.
In addition, during 2013 AT&T issued the first major RFQ specifically calling for SDN support with demands for the separation of hardware and software. They went on to say that delivering SDN and NFV "will require some of AT&T's current providers, but also will require some new providers with different skills and capabilities." That statement is especially significant in that it heralds something of a shake-up in the vendor landscape. As with the predictions in app development made earlier, newborn SDN-focused vendors will be key to the delivery of separate, interoperable hardware and software components.
ONF will continue to encourage a vigorous ecosystem both to stimulate greater innovation by the incumbents and provide a fertile base for the formation of new companies focused on the future of networking.
With SDN already the poster child for network innovation, 2014 will surely herald SDN’s “growth spurt”.


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