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OpenDaylight Means Opening SDN and NFV for Business

By Peter Bernstein August 15, 2014

As ITEXPO came to a close in Las Vegas this week, it seemed like a good idea to pick up on what I saw at the start of the show as a powerful theme that is sweeping virtually (literally and figuratively) almost every aspect of ICT as we move to an increasingly more software-centric and driven world.  That theme is loosely stated as, “the power and wisdom of the crowd” and the driving force behind how we can move ahead.

I mentioned this initially in the context of what the open source Asterisk and FreePBX community has done in pushing the envelope on enterprise communications. In a few relatively short years there are already 2 million installations and growing. In fact, from a base of SMB early pioneers the open source solutions are increasingly being adopted by larger and larger accounts thanks to the maturity, reliability and flexibility of the solutions and the pace of innovation that community power is providing. Indeed Asterisk and FreePBX are following in the footsteps of the success of Linux in the computing world. They are proving that open source translates into “open for business.” 

The reason to bring this up again is that I had the pleasure of moderating many of the sessions of ITEXPO’s collocated Software Telco Congress event. It was a two-day immersive experience into where we are and where we are going with software-defined networks (SDN) and the telco-centric and closely associated and aligned network functions virtualization (NFV).  Without going into the details of the sessions which featured a who’s who of SDN and NFV experts, I will summarize as saying where we are with both is a little past the on-ramp of the learning curve of the potential of each, especially in regards to SDN. I can also say there is consensus that SDN and NFV are the future, and that getting from here to there is going to be a revolution that happens in evolutionary steps, and there will be pain as well as gain - since what we are talking about are the drivers of fundamental changes in corporate culture, how services are delivered, how business models and workflows are transformed and how the role of IT in all of this is overhauled in what many may see as very disruptive ways.

The one session I really wanted to highlight was a fascinating presentation by Neela Jacques, executive director, OpenDaylight

The run to daylight

For readers familiar with American football, the late and great Green Bay Packer coach Vince Lombardi’s book “Run to Daylight!” was the legendary coach’s one-week diary at the helm of his championship team, and his message is that teamwork creates daylight through which, on offense, allows the person with the ball to evade tacklers and score. That is what the Linux Foundation project OpenDaylight, as described by Jacques and articulated on the project’s website is designed to do.

In fact, as the project website states it:

At this early stage of SDN and NFV adoption, the industry acknowledges the benefits of establishing an open, reference framework for programmability and control through an open source SDN and NFV solution. Such a framework maintains the flexibility and choice to allow organizations to deploy SDN and NFV as they please, yet still mitigates many of the risks of adopting early stage technologies and integrating with existing infrastructure investments…

With OpenDaylight, a community has come together to fill this need through the combination of open community developers and open source code and project governance that guarantees an open, community decision making process on business and technical issues. Establishing an open source project in this way is designed to help accelerate the development of technology available to users and enable widespread adoption of SDN and create a solid foundation for NFV.

Those last few words, “help accelerate the development of technology” are the key here. As Jacques pointed out, open source maybe imperfect as a way to move forward but it beats the tyranny of looking for an authoritarian dictator in the market and possible interoperability issues. In short, he noted that, “The industry needs to create a platform that encourages both innovation for the common good while not disturbing the ability of members to create and sustain their own differentiated value for their customers.”

Indeed, one way of looking at OpenDaylight is with the context of the history of communications and to some extent, computing, where all boats rose when the tide came in - which meant agreed on common attributes - meaning standards and terms and conditions for interoperability. Islands of communications were never good for anyone long-term and such will be the case with SDN and NFV.

Jacques was also quick to point out that OpenDaylight is not the only collaborative effort out there but if you look at the list of who is participating you have to like its chances. In addition, he was very explicit about explaining that OpenDaylight is not a standards body. It is an initiative that rests on what he described as “Community, Code and Acceptance.”

Several of the sessions, and a lot of discussion offline, centered around how SDN seems to have stalled at the moment, while NFV is moving ahead based in large measure by the need of the communications companies to cut cost, and be more agile so they can compete against the OTT’s now and going forward. There was also recognition that companies like NTT and a few others “get it” when it comes to SDN and are not piloting capabilities but using them every day and building up nice use cases. 

The big challenge, since the devil really is in the details with both SDN and NFV, are what’s it going to take to really step on the accelerator. Ironically, the discussion on this front is more about the business case for SDN and less about the obvious benefits and progress on NFV, which is a reverse of the discussion going back less than two years. 

The reason for optimism that we can get from here to there - and faster than one might suspect, comes from the power of community that open source represents. OpenDaylight is something to keep a very close eye on. In fact, it is something to participate in.

Over the years open source efforts have shown that communal efforts based on freely contributed intellectual property that is tested and honed does not foreclose the ability to make money. It historically can be argued what it does is expand the opportunities for success. Open source has long ago shed its pejorative connotations, and rightfully can be seen as being open for business. In this respect, the coincidence of the project name with the Lombardi book is very appropriate. The project should be seen as the chance for the industry to break through and score.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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