A big step toward what may be the future of networking was taken this week when the Linux Foundation’s OpenDaylight Foundation introduced Hydrogen, the first take on an open standards, open source approach to software-defined networks (SDNs).
It’s little surprise that the details are extraordinarily complex. Essentially, SDNs provide all sorts of goodies by separating the software that determines how data flows through a network from the hardware and software that actually sends it.
The benefits are that centralized control enables more assets – bandwidth allocation and features such as quality of service (QoS) and security – to be assigned with knowledge of what is available across the whole network. These assets can be assigned on a real-time basis, since each network element now can be controlled from afar. Finally, since the equipment in the field isn’t as sophisticated, interoperable commodity or near-commodity gear can be used.
Hydrogen is the OpenDaylight Foundation’s first stab at making this conceptual dream a reality. Enterprise Networking Planet’s Sean Michael Kerner has a nice piece that describes what OpenDaylight introduced. It's too complex to briefly sum up, but the bottom line is that Hydrogen defines how the various layers communicate with each other.
Serdar Yegulalp at InfoWorld found a good midpoint between the bits and the bytes and the 50,000-foot perspective on Hydrogen:
Hydrogen, which is Eclipse-licensed, comes in three editions: Base Edition, Virtualization Edition, and Service Provider Edition, each aimed at different markets. Base includes the core controller software, plug-ins and protocol libraries for OpenFlow, and configuration databases and tools for Open vSwitch servers and YANG projects. The other two editions include tools for things like DDoS detection, multitenancy, traffic engineering, and SNMP support for managing commodity Ethernet switches. In short, Hydrogen is not intended as a one-size-fits-all solution.
Yegulalp goes on to create some context around the project. The reality is that SDNs are a controversial technology simply because they not only upset the apple cart, but redesign it and open it to all different types of fruit. Part of the change, he suggests, is that a lot of the work is being done in the open source community and not standards committees. Another huge issue is that the established players, especially one with a five-letter name that starts with a “C” and ends with an “O,” may not be thrilled with this suddenly more ecumenical playing field.
PCWorld covered the Open Compute Project late last month in San Jose, Calif. It quoted Martin Casado, the founder of Nicira Networks, which subsequently was sold to VMware. The story calls him “an SDN pioneer.” He also suggested that the challenges are largely non-technical:
“Probably the most inflexible things in industry are people’s brains,” Casado said during a panel discussion on opening up network hardware. SDN might ultimately allow companies to replace traditional switches and routers with open-source hardware, but the engineers and administrators who have been doing things the same way for years will need help to make the transition, he said.
Separately, Ericsson said this week that it will establish a lab. According to Light Reading, its goal is to “support and help advance the OpenDaylight community.” The lab will be at Ericsson’s San Jose campus.