Open Networking Summit 2014: Let's talk scalability and SDN use cases

Plexxi's Michael Bushong says the Open Networking Summit 2014 should move beyond the SDN buzz and into the technical nitty-gritty.

It wasn't long ago that the Open Networking Summit (ONS) was the only SDN conference in town. Since those early days, other conferences have sprung up, but the Open Networking Summit 2014 will still be the premier SDN event of the year.

Last year, the show officially moved from being technology-centric to something more commercial. It was studded with big vendor news and even kicked off with a video depicting Internet visionary Vint Cerf as James Bond.

But when the ONS first began, it was about the technology, and the show was an opportunity for like-minded individuals to come together and debate the technical merits of what would become a burgeoning technology. As we sit on the cusp of the 2014 ONS, I hope that we see a return to ONS's roots.

The networking industry already has sufficient SDN buzz. What we need now is candid and technically honest discussion about the finer points of turning SDN from a new technology to an operationally viable way of running a business. We need to talk about things like interoperability, scaling, high availability, abstractions and actual use cases.

ONS offers the best single opportunity for the talented minds behind the movement to collaborate. If 2014 sees ONS return to more of a working meeting, the whole of the SDN universe will be better for it.

ONS 2014: Come one, come all

The SDN marketplace is fractured. The fact that we are still debating what defines SDN is a sign that we are not speaking as an industry united. Vendors can't agree, but the divisiveness goes beyond them. Standards organizations and open source groups are all competing for mindshare, control, relevance and so forth. When asked about the state of SDN and standards, everyone is polite and speaks about kinship, yet each party wants to leave its mark.

The ONS is deeply aligned with the Open Networking Foundation (ONF). Does the special relationship between the ONF and the ONS mean that projects like OpenDaylight will not be on display as prominently? I suspect that OpenDaylight will enjoy a good amount of visibility if for no other reason than it has a lot of industry backers. But what about other open source initiatives, such as Floodlight and OpenContrail?

Once, part of the allure of SDN was the funneling of many efforts into a cohesive architecture. Now that we are a few years in, we are seeing too much separation. The ONS should be a powerful force in keeping the varying efforts aligned and moving in the same direction. For a user base that has to absorb an awful lot of change, having a unifying force to help provide guidance is immensely important.

Needed at ONS 2014: More than Google and big vendor news

The last several Open Networking Summit events have been buoyed by Google and vendor announcements. Google's famous OpenFlow announcement a couple of years ago paved the way for SDN. The keynotes in 2013 featured prominent speakers from vendors, including Intel and several networking suppliers. But outside of Google and the vendors, there was surprisingly little meat.

What we need now is a broader discussion. SDN is relevant beyond just the vendors and massive Web-scale companies. The use cases are not limited to what companies with seemingly limitless resources can imagine. For SDN to be a commercially viable technology, we have to see traction in other areas. And the 2014 ONS provides an excellent forum to put other success stories on display.

Coming out of ONS this year, the industry should look at SDN not as a distant technology consumable by only the most hardcore engineering organizations, but as something that is useful in solving myriad networking challenges. The lesser known companies might not be as large a draw for potential audiences, but they will serve as good mile markers that show SDN moving more mainstream.

The Open Networking Summit continues to draw the sharpest minds in the SDN space, and I can only hope the show stays close to the technology. The industry isn't quite ready for the complete commercialization of these unique gatherings.

This was first published in February 2014

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