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Digital transformation to be major theme in ONUG 2016 fall conference

Nick Lippis, co-founder and co-chairman of ONUG, describes what to expect from ONUG 2016. Major topics will include digital transformation and its effect on the IT industry.

Twice a year, the Open Networking User Group, or ONUG, hosts a user-focused conference, where IT executives and analysts come together with the same purpose in mind -- to advance open networking. Each conference features an impressive lineup of keynote speakers and sessions, addressing topics ranging from software-defined WAN and cloud infrastructure to real use cases. Founded by Ernest Lefner and Nick Lippis in 2012, ONUG offers the chance for IT leaders to share goals and concerns. The ONUG 2016 fall conference will take place in New York on Oct. 24 and 25.

SearchSDN assistant site editor Jennifer English discussed the upcoming ONUG 2016 fall conference with Lippis to find out more about what attendees can expect.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What can attendees expect from the ONUG 2016 fall conference?

Nick Lippis: I think there are four big things that are going to happen at this ONUG. The first is there is going to be a lot of talk about digital transformation and its impact on business economy. The tools to do business transformation are with cloud software-defined infrastructure.

The second point is a reaction to the first. IT departments have been moving toward building solutions with open source, startups and cloud providers, and less and less from large, established IT vendors. That has forced IT to integrate more. IT organizations are starting to realize how much of the burden has been placed upon them to integrate, and they don't have the tools to do that.

There are two implications from that. The first is IT organization design based around silos is on its last leg. It won't be turned off tomorrow, but all the new investment is going into DevOps and full-stack engineering. Secondly, IT needs the tools to do this integration. So, a key focus at this ONUG is going to be around analytics and monitoring. We are going to help create a marketplace for companies to participate and provide analytics and monitoring tools for this infrastructure.

Have those four points been the main focus for the ONUG working groups?

Lippis: Yes, they all really come out of the ONUG working groups. There is the networking state working group focusing on analytics and monitoring. They're focusing on the applications and software that are needed and getting data out of the infrastructure into the analytics tools.

Then, there's the hybrid cloud group, providing a framework around how to build a private hybrid cloud and the challenges and best practices that come with that.

SD-WAN is growing at such a pace, and companies are concerned about connecting with different SD-WAN vendors. So, there's been a working group and initiative around open SD-WAN exchange to make it possible for two vendors to communicate at a basic level. That group has made a tremendous amount of progress during the summer and will talk about this in a conference session.

There is the security group, working around what security means now in a software-defined infrastructure. They'll have their own spot in the conference as well.

There's been a working group around brilliant boxes, or really white box 2.0, wondering why the white box market hasn't taken off in the enterprise marketplace. There are both technical and nontechnical issues, and there will be a session on that also. On the panel, there will be both white box suppliers and a group of emerging software companies. The real hope of this is to be able to provide a way to interchange different kinds of networking products, maybe through orchestration or through automated configuration.

Where have you noticed the biggest advancements in those areas, and how do you measure success?

Lippis: I think the easiest one to measure is SD-WAN. We defined that use case in 2012, before there were SD-WAN vendors. We helped create that marketplace. We drove the requirements for it, and we've been showcasing companies participating in SD-WAN. You can measure it just in terms of the sheer number of use cases coming up.

The data center is a different beast because there are so many different administrative demands, and so many different groups have a say in it. The vendors have not been addressing the problem, so the deployments aren't happening. That's another way to measure it: We identify a problem. The vendors don't provide solutions, and the market doesn't materialize.

Now, I think we're moving into packaging the working groups around analytics and monitoring and security and the brilliant box together and calling for a cloud infrastructure 2.0 or an underlay 2.0 -- the term isn't finalized yet. This will include all the major features or functions needed in the enterprise marketplace, and ONUG is going to drive a market that is analytics- and monitoring-rich. That's probably one of the key things we are going to be stressing and talking about. We'll then plot this course over the next couple of ONUGs.

We would love to start seeing proof of concepts for some of the new work being done. A lab will be announced at this ONUG, where companies can provide an infrastructure to establish a data set, and then we'll get open source communities involved. We'll help create an environment as an incentive around business and market need, along with the tools and guidance needed for that market to develop.

In an opinion piece you wrote last year, you said the definition of open networking is changing to mean choice and options. Is that still true today?

One thing to highlight is there will be a lot of emphasis and talk about IT design, culture and skill sets needed.
Nick Lippisco-founder and co-chairman, ONUG

Lippis: Yes. For example, there are literally no open networking standards. There is no faith in the IETF [Internet Engineering Task Force]. There's no faith in any kind of standards organizations, or that they are going to provide leadership. So, how do you get openness? To us, openness is having options and choices.

It looks like that's the subject of the great debate, "Two Roads to Open Networking." What do you anticipate seeing in that conversation?

Lippis: There is one road that says, 'OK, we get open because it's in the interest of particular vendors that build extendable products so they can adopt and integrate multiple different environments.' And then the other argument is we need a broader industry initiative that abstracts all networking, which will then give you the ultimate in option and choice. There are pros and cons to both approaches, and that's why we're talking about it in the great debate.

Is there anything else we should know about the ONUG 2016 fall conference?

Lippis: We're going to kick ONUG 2016 off with Kevin Humphries from FedEx and Chris Drumgoole from GE, two top industry executives. They will lay out the digital transformation story and the imperative for companies to embrace it. And they'll talk about how jobs are going to change.

One thing to highlight is there will be a lot of emphasis and talk about IT design, culture and skill sets needed. We'll look back at this ONUG as being a pivot point in the industry around how we think about the infrastructure we're building and why we're building it -- from business and technical perspectives, and also from a career development point of view. Any IT executive thinking about the future and who wants to understand what could potentially happen to our industry and their jobs should be at this ONUG.

Next Steps

The great debate from last year's ONUG fall conference

IT trends to look for in 2017

A pro-hardware perspective from ONUG 2015

Dig Deeper on SDN certification, skills and careers

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