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Reflections on the ONF/ONS Week

Nov 7, 2011

By the fourth day of what turned out to be SDN/ONF Week, I was on autopilot. The first day (Monday, October 17) I walked around tentatively, hoping the sold-out tutorials for the Open Networking Summit would satisfy those enrolled and that the arrangements would run smoothly. The next two days – the technical sessions of the Summit – began with my stepping around the long legs of engineers who were sitting on the floor in the aisles typing feverishly on their laptops, iPads, and smartphones. Would we have enough seats? Would all the speakers show up? Would the presentations be as exciting in person as they were in planning? Gradually I learned that all the answers would be yes (once those seated on the floor saw where the empty seats were). Finally, the ONF Member Workday on Thursday was even more intense but by then the meeting was  humming like a Formula One car and my orchestration was more at ground level as a participant. I must admit that I was anxious to lose the business suit Friday.

Yes, it was quite a week. Around the time of our first ONF Member Workday – June 21 – (yes, just 4 months ago), my colleague Guru Parulkar, Executive Director of Stanford’s Clean Slate Program, first suggested that we host a “small gathering” of like-minded OpenFlow® and SDN enthusiasts. We didn’t have the details that day, but I told the ONF attendees to watch for the upcoming URL for the first Open Networking Summit. Guru and I daringly booked a room at Stanford University with a maximum capacity of 200 that we could shrink to half the size if our expectations of attendance were overly optimistic.

How wrong we were. We ended up squeezing around 400 into that (expanded) room while, unfortunately, leaving 200 hopefuls on a waiting list (and probably more that hadn’t even bothered to waitlist) Who would have thought?

And what a Summit it was. Reporters and bloggers have filled the trade press and Blogspot with insightful analysis of both the trees (who said what) and the forest (what all our being there really said). What I mainly felt was that this is truly a movement happening. Take, for example, the diversity of the participants. I met technologists of every stripe, business-development folks, even marketing types, not to mention analysts and investors. A prominent VP from a world-leading telco exclaimed that he could not remember the last time he went to a meeting centered on a technical topic and ran into venture capitalists. From engineers in the trenches to startup CEOs, from programmers who came to learn what all the fuss was about to high executives of large corporations who were staking their careers on championing SDN, all these and more filled the seats. For those of you who would like to see (or re-see) what happened at the Summit, all the slides and videos of all the talks are posted here.

At the ONF Member Workday on October 20, immediately following the Summit in the same location, 160 registrants came with what seemed a fierceness of mindset to get down to work. The Extensibility and Configuration & Management Working Groups hammered away at their commitments for OpenFlow® 1.2. Testing & Interoperability WG members pushed hard on the work that will reach its first major milestones early next year. An ad hoc band of enthusiasts met for the first time to debate and formulate a proposed charter for an official Working Group on the Hybrid Forwarding Plane. And I was able to meet with some members excited about ONF’s starting a new effort on market education.

As I write this, ONF has welcomed LSI, its 49th member company, with more membership inquiries in my inbox. And we’re only six months beyond our public launch. Guru and I have opened pre-registration for the next Summit, and already the number of people pre-registered is nearly 400, many being departing Summit and ONF attendees not willing to take a chance on missing the action. (You might want to sign up now as well.) My inbox continues to run over with blog posts and press clippings, interview and speaking requests, and expressions of high regional interest that have me thinking about how best to serve the needs of such a global community of members. I have a team working on our web site to create and manage content and provide the tools you need to do your work, and they are busy, very busy. What’s more, I have retained the services of an international public relations firm to work on external market education with our members.

I reflect on my long history of networking technology and standards activities fully cognizant of the fact that I have never before been a part of such an enthusiastic undertaking. Both the Summit and the ONF Member Workday brought people from around the world and we stepped over one another, broke bread, downed some fine, locally-crafted liquid refreshments, argued vociferously over the finer points of so many topics, and literally can’t wait to do it all again. I want to thank each and every person who joined us at either the Summit or ONF Workday and apologize to those who wanted to participate but were instead waitlisted. What I can promise you is many more events in larger venues, a constant stream of relevant information on our web site, more ways for you to contribute, and – oh, before I forget – the OpenFlow® 1.2 standard on schedule for December approval by the Board (thanks exclusively to your efforts).

As always, I welcome your suggestions, ideas, and initiative.

Dan Pitt