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Northbound Approaches.

Oct 21, 2013

ONF charters Working Group to reduce end-user confusion on Northbound Interface.

This month, the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) announced the creation of a Northbound Interface Working Group. This group builds on the work done by the Architecture and Framework Working Group, which has studied existing use cases and controller Northbound Interfaces (NBIs) since 2012, creating a catalog of available Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). Since the time their work began, the number of NBIs has exploded.

As a general principle, ONF firmly believes that NBIs, and other interfaces for that matter, ideally should not be standardized de jure by committee, but rather by trial and experience within the market. But there can be too much of a good thing, and the recent proliferation of NBIs is impeding the progress of Software-Defined Networking (SDN). The number of approaches to the NBI has increased considerably throughout this year, which has resulted in a confusion of programmatic interfaces that network service vendors, orchestration systems, and application developers must write to in order to serve diverse SDN use cases.

Given ONF’s mission to accelerate the adoption of open SDN, our member companies, in particular end-user members, asked us to step in to create information models of available APIs, prototyping and gaining end-user feedback on selected examples to help eliminate the confusion that the more than 20 available NBIs have created in the marketplace.

The focus of this newly formed ONF Working Group is to narrow the playing field – reducing the broad number of NBI approaches through discussion of use cases and experiences within the market. We are not standardizing the Northbound API. Rather, we are taking the lead in helping end users better understand what NBIs serve what needs.

We continue to believe that software standards should be created by a committee only when absolutely necessary. One of the purposes of the Working Group is to determine if an NBI standard from a committee is truly needed by the market. Over the last two years, we have said that more experience was needed with SDN controllers and applications before anyone could judge the qualities of a “good” NBI. Our Working Group will build on the considerable body of experience gained since then and on the demand from application developers for assistance in understanding this critical component of a complete SDN solution.

We see our work in NBIs as an extension of our central mission.  By helping to identify one or a small number of stable, open NBIs, we are further supporting rapid adoption of open SDN.
– Dan Pitt, Executive Director