Telcos, service providers, and very large enterprises know they need to transform their network infrastructure to be more flexible, scalable, and monetizable.
The emergence of network-centric open source software, disaggregated hardware and software, and SDN and virtualized network functions, represent new opportunities to transform hidebound infrastructures.
But all these myriad pieces are like a giant tub of random Legos. You can assemble some interesting things from component parts, but there aren’t any instructions. You have to dig and sift to find what you want, and then figure out how to assemble it yourself. And if an ideal piece isn’t in the tub, it’s up to you to figure out a workaround.
That may be an interesting intellectual challenge for you and your kids around the dining room table, but for profit-seeking organizations it’s also time-consuming, risky, and expensive.
Enter the Open Networking Foundation (ONF). This non-profit advocate of open source networking has announced an initiative to essentially re-aggregate many of the open source pieces and parts that are scattered across the networking industry’s table, including white box switches, network OSs, and open source controllers and orchestration systems.
“We want to generalize and industrialize these technologies and allow member companies to participate, plug in their ideas, and take it into production deployment,” said Guru Parulkar, executive director of ONF in an interview.
The ONF calls this initiative the Open Innovation Pipeline. The goal, as far as I understand it, is to develop instruction sets for assembling kits of open-source software and hardware that work together and can be acquired and deployed by network operators.
In addition, operators, vendors, and third-party integrators can contribute back their own ideas, technologies, and use cases to the pipeline for the benefit of the community.
And unlike proprietary infrastructure, these kits should remain open. This will enable internal customization as well as integration with other components.
But rather than molded plastic blocks that snap together, the integration will happen around open APIs and data models.
“Today we have disaggregated devices and open source platforms,” said Parulkar. “But vendors are still delivering closed platforms, even if they use open components, so operators aren’t benefiting as much. We want to address that.”
Parulkar said the ONF initiative is similar to the Open Compute Project, which shares hardware designs and open source networking software, but that OCP hardware and software could be incorporated into the ONF pipeline.
Starter Kits: ONOS And CORD
ONOS (Open Network Operating System) is an open-source operating system built specifically for carrier and service provider requirements.
ONOS is built around the principles of SDN; that is, the separation of the control plane and data plane, enables programmability of devices and services, and creates abstraction layers for management, monitoring, and programming.
CORD (Central Office Re-architected as a Data center) is an open project to transform telco central offices to operate more like cloud data centers: elastic, scalable resource pools that can spin up and spin down services and capacity on demand, with a highly automated management layer and hooks into third-party business systems for ordering, provisioning, billing, and so on.
(Note that ONOS and CORD were both developed by ON.Labs, another open networking organization. ONF and ON.Labs are in the process of merging, and the resulting organization will use the ONF moniker.)
ONF will use these projects as a starting point for the Open Innovation Pipeline. The goal is to aggregate the disparate parts that make up ONOS and CORD, and integrate it for network operators.
ONF won’t be stitching together software and hardware itself and it won’t sell products. Instead, it will partner with vendors and integrators to productize ONOS and CORD and offer them to customers.
Parulkar said the value for vendors and integrators is that working within this framework will reduce their time to market, cut down their R&D costs, and get accelerated adoption from telcos and service providers because these customers know they are buying into an open ecosystem.