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Innovating: Software Defined Standards

Mar 28, 2017

Timon Sloane details ONF’s new approach to Software Defined Standards, where open source development and deployment guide standards development. 

What came first, the chicken or the egg?

It’s an old question, but it’s a relevant one in the standards world as many of us dispute when standards should be created. Should standards come before the software, or should software come before the standards?

When OpenFlow was in its infancy at Stanford University, new releases of the standard were based on an open source reference implementation. When OpenFlow became a part of the ONF community, the approach changed. Iterations to the OpenFlow standard occurred and then were released to the industry to help frame product development. There is a history of successful projects getting started in this way. TCP/IP was also first implemented and then standardized.

Once standardized, the traditional ways of working centered on iterating and finding consensus on the standards, only then committing to implementations. This was the approach taken not just by ONF, but by standards bodies around the world at that time: standards first, implementations second. That approach was reinforced by a general attitude that providing a formula for interoperability was required before vendors would invest in developing implementations. This was particularly true where hardware and ASIC interfaces were involved. The millions of dollars being spent mandated agreement on the solutions being built before investing in the R&D.

We live in a software driven world (hence the SDN movement). What we have seen with SDN is that innovation hasn’t occurred as rapidly as we would have hoped when using the traditional standards model. What the industry experienced – via open source projects such as ONOS®, CORD® and OpenDaylight (ODL) – was that open source could be a primary source of innovation to drive the industry forward. Open source moves at a much more rapid pace, and standards are just not keeping up.

With the recently announced merger of ONF and ON.Lab, we are “standardizing” on a new approach. We are drawing from the best of both worlds and bringing SDN standards and open source software development together under one umbrella for the creation of Software Defined Standards. Our approach is based on the understanding that open source is critical to SDN deployment. We will let open source software development and lessons learned with early deployments guide standards development. We will continue to lead open source projects ONOS and CORD, while working closely with other open source projects such as ODL and OPNFV to ensure that future ONF standards, including ongoing updates to OpenFlow, are derived from interworking agreements between open source developer communities.

One of the many benefits of open source is its ability to power innovation. By increasing our focus on open source software development we will be working to quickly drive successful open source trials into production environments. These trials, after all, are critical to real-world deployment by service providers, network operators and any startup or vendor that is looking to accelerate their innovations into deployment. This is the foundation of our recently announced Open Innovation Pipeline strategy, an approach that leverages open source platforms, network device disaggregation, and software defined standards to build high value use cases and solutions and to solidify pre-established paths for taking those solutions into operator PoCs, trials and deployment with our operator partners. When it comes to software and standards, we believe that synergy between the two is important. With that in mind, Software Defined Standards are based on the understanding that open source will often come first, thus speeding the pace of innovation.

There’s no question in my mind that this new recipe will be central to driving transformation across the networking industry.

– Timon Sloane, VP of Standards and Membership