University Spinoff’s
Take on SDN

Dr. Boon Thau Loo of Gencore Systems describes the value that university startups can bring to the SDN industry and the role that ONF plays in this process.

Gencore Systems traces its roots to the NetDB@Penn research team in the Computer and Information Sciences department at the University of Pennsylvania. We started out as an interdisciplinary research group exploring topics at the intersection of “networking” and “databases.” Over the past few years, we have developed declarative programming tools that aim to unify network monitoring, configuration, and optimization more easily and efficiently through a unique combination of techniques in databases, programming languages, and network management. Our Gencore platform provides a high-level language to create on-demand analytics, reduces code size, and it can also include the ability to dynamically actuate software-defined infrastructures to block security attacks or optimize networks in response to a detected qualified situation. With significant excitement, we officially spun off from the University of Pennsylvania in January 2014 to take this research to market with products that will make network management more effective and less costly.

Like most university startups, Gencore faces two challenges. First, we need to identify the most effective real-world use cases for our academic innovations. By “effective,” one has to directly address real customer pain points through these innovations. Second, we need to raise our visibility in the industry and learn about our customers in order for technology transfer to be effective. ONF, through its unique mix of member companies and its active Working and Discussion Groups, plays an important role in helping university startups like Gencore address these challenges.

With the convergence of content distribution and telecommunication networks, large telcos need to add agility to their core networks in order to engineer traffic that takes into account content demands. In the data center space, there is an increasing need for agility to provide on-demand provisioning of resources and dynamic service chaining through Network Functions Virtualization (NFV). As networks become increasingly programmable, the need to provide correctness guarantees and variability becomes increasingly important, as network operators have to spend significant time proving that the problem lies elsewhere in the application and not their networks. Virtualization also increases the need for tools that can address performance issues across the physical-virtual boundary.

In all of the these scenarios, we have found it very rewarding to talk to customers to understand how we can best use SDN technologies to help them tackle the large-scale network infrastructure challenges of the future. Since its inception, ONF has grown to embrace the SDN community at large, involving various stakeholders in the process. Through ONF, we are able to keep abreast with the latest happenings in the SDN industry. We also now have a platform to reach out to potential customers and end users that may have problems that can be solved using the core capabilities of Gencore’s platform.

This is an exciting time for the networking community, and the excitement transcends both industry and academia. One need look no further than the latest SIGCOMM, NSDI, and HotSDN proceedings to know that SDN academic research is alive and kicking. ONF is uniquely at the forefront of this revolution, and it is bridging the gap between academic research and industry. Startups like Gencore Systems also have an important role to play in this revolution in using clean-slate approaches that further disrupt the status quo.

Gencore Systems is proud to become a member of ONF, and we look forward to continuing our journey forward with the ONF family.

- Dr. Boon Thau Loo, Co-founder and Lead Scientist, Gencore Systems, and Associate Professor, Department of Computer and Information Science, University of Pennsylvania

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The Linux Foundation
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The Linux Foundation
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