Trying to Go with the OpenFlow

    With much fanfare, we witnessed the recent creation of the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), which is a consortium that has been created to promote the adoption of the open source OpenFlow network management format.

    Depending on who you talk to, this is either a major event or something that might be worth watching to see if it actually develops into something significant.

    For example, one of the earliest supporters of OpenFlow is Brocade Networks. According to Dr. Norival Figueira, senior product manager with the IP Products Division of Brocade, with broad industry support from organizations such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, Verizon and Deutsche Telekom, OpenFlow will prove to be a critical standard.

    Other member companies of the ONF include Broadcom, Ciena, Cisco, Citrix, Dell, Ericsson, Force10, Google, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Juniper Networks, Marvell, NEC, Netgear, NTT, Riverbed Technology, Verizon and VMware.

    With so much industry support, you might think that OpenFlow will be the next slam-dunk standard for creating software-defined network architectures, especially, as Figueira notes, when you consider the challenges we’ll face trying to manage networks across disparate cloud computing deployments.

    The trouble is that Cisco already has a proprietary platform fairly well established, especially in enterprise IT shops. In addition to being more developed than OpenFlow, the Cisco architecture is already supported by a wide variety of network management tool vendors that need to deal with the practical issue of how widely Cisco networking equipment is deployed across the enterprise, versus the actual number of devices that actively support OpenFlow.

    Omar Sultan, senior manager for Cisco’s Data Center Solutions says Cisco is committed to the ideals outlined by the ONF, but the company is still waiting to see how OpenFlow will develop before committing to actually deploying it. In fact, although Cisco would subscribe to the value of having software-defined networks, it’s hard to see why Cisco would be in any particular hurry to level off the networking playing field.

    The bottom line here seems to be that while the formation of the ONF is a boon to the concept of open networking, it might still be quite some time before ONF actually has a meaningful impact on the way IT organizations manage their networks.

    Mike Vizard
    Mike Vizard
    Michael Vizard is a seasoned IT journalist, with nearly 30 years of experience writing and editing about enterprise IT issues. He is a contributor to publications including Programmableweb, IT Business Edge, CIOinsight and UBM Tech. He formerly was editorial director for Ziff-Davis Enterprise, where he launched the company’s custom content division, and has also served as editor in chief for CRN and InfoWorld. He also has held editorial positions at PC Week, Computerworld and Digital Review.

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