Enterprise networkers have organized: Here are their demands

The user group ONUG is pushing for four new software-defined networking technologies

MXC fiber
Intel MXC fiber cabling Credit: Stephen Lawson

A user group for enterprise IT managers is taking on software-defined networking, calling for new technologies they say would better serve enterprise needs.

On Tuesday, the Open Networking User Group (ONUG) announced initiatives behind four technologies that it says would help enterprises build and run their networks better.

There’s no shortage of platforms and protocols for software-defined infrastructure, including things like OpenFlow, OpenStack and ONOS (Open Network Operating System). But they were developed around the needs of vendors and service providers more than of enterprises, ONUG founder Nick Lippis said. His group wants to push along a few more pieces that aren’t there yet.

The four initiatives, announced at ONUG’s semi-annual conference in Mountain View, California, are the first such efforts from the three-year-old organization. Its members include IT executives from Bank of America, Credit Suisse, FedEx, General Electric and other companies.

ONUG doesn’t want to be a standards body, so it will look to others to actually develop the technologies. If none can do it, ONUG will form a new kind of organization to carry out the ideas, said Lippis, a longtime industry analyst. If a vendor runs with one of the ideas and builds a product, that works, too, he said. ONUG members just want the technology.

SDN (software-defined networking) has been around since 2009 and found its way into some major products and some enterprise and carrier implementations. SD-WAN, a variant for wide-area networks, is expected to grow quickly in the next few years.

Both place more control of infrastructure into software, which can bring new capabilities and let less expensive commodity hardware take the place of proprietary gear.

Enterprises haven’t yet flocked to these technologies en masse. One reason is that some key components don’t exist yet, according to ONUG.

Here’s what the group wants to see:

1. an Open SD-WAN Exchange (OSE) to allow multiple SD-WANs to behave virtually as one. SD-WANs are meant to simplify management of diverse connections to remote data centers and branch offices. But these unifying systems don’t have a common way to communicate among themselves. If two companies with SD-WANs merge, for example, they’ll end up with separate WANs, Lippis said.

2. an Open Interoperable Control Plane (OICP) so a software-defined network can smoothly tie together parts of a data center that are built on different architectures, like VMware vCenter and OpenStack. The OICP would be an overlay, so it wouldn’t modify switches.

3. an Open Traffic Management Format (OTMF) for taking data from all physical and virtual network devices and steering it into analytical software. Today, it’s hard to gauge the effects of system failures. “There are different kinds of management systems that a network operator needs to look at in order to decipher it. And they have to decipher it in their head,” Lippis said.

4. an Open Network State Format (ONSF) for information about the state of network devices, such as whether they’re connected and how much energy they’re drawing. ONSF would let administrators treat network management as a big-data problem, Lippis said. “Right now, it is total guesswork.” This format could help startups like Veriflow build comprehensive management systems, he said.

ONUG will hold four workshops over the next few months where enterprise IT people, vendors and academics can further define the proposals and decide where they should be carried out. That might mean the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force), OCP (Open Compute Project) or other organizations, Lippis said. “We know no one’s working on these problems.” ONUG hopes to see proof-of-concept implementations of the proposed technologies about a year from now.

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