Users can chart the course of SDN at next ONUG meeting

Vendors often have their own program for new rolling out new products, driven by product development cycles, internal market research, and larger corporate strategy. But sometimes, especially in areas where the path for new technology is not well-defined, efforts led by end-user communities can provide a crucial input to shape agendas for vendors.

The Open Networking Users Group (ONUG) meeting later this month provides one such opportunity. After a productive meeting in May dedicated to improving networks at the enterprise level, the ONUG user-led community and its board of directors (which includes senior IT executives from large banks, transportation, retail, pharmaceutical and insurance companies) wants to move ahead quickly.

ONUG’s goal is to press for common approaches to facilitate the use of new open networking technologies. At the May meeting in New York, which I attended, participants selected software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN), virtual Networks/overlays, and network services virtualization as the key areas where work efforts were needed. The ONUG board prepared a report on these three areas to ensure that the agenda’s key points were given a larger audience. My sense was that many participants agreed with Prof. Doug Comer, an authority on TCP/IP protocols, that SDN and other new network architectures and services might not be ready for prime time.

What was fascinating about the May meeting was the ability to mix user contributions from larger firms and financial players. Most of the IT perspectives that were shared reflected the issues that everyone — including a number of vendors — want to address. Among them are the perception of higher costs of more traditional, less open, systems, as well as discussion of the open resources alternatives that are already available.

The upcoming October 28-29 meeting presents results from three ONUG working groups led by IT executives and also including vendors. They focused on the three key issues defined at the May meeting. There will also be a lively a debate between Prof. Comer and Paul Mockapetris of Nominum, the creator of DNS. Mockapetris is far more optimistic about employing DNS with security to strengthen networks of the future. Comer and Mockapetris will debate the winning strategy for embracing SDN.

I think there is a good chance that ONUG members will join with a selected group of vendors to begin to resolve the sticky issues needed to make SD-WAN, virtual networks/overlays, and network services virtualization more robust. This could include a series of proof-of-concept projects or collaborations to refine how to deal with inadequacies or gaps in technologies that need to mature for SDN to work.

This effort could readily complement what has recently been pushed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute and many service providers in their efforts to promote network function virtualization (NFV) as well as SDN largely from a service provider perspective. The ONUG efforts, in my opinion, could provide an interesting counterbalance to the ETSI efforts and ensure that adequate work is focused on security, interoperability, scalability, and other issues of primary importance to enterprises.

It is also likely that a few enterprises will play the role of “guinea pigs” and deploy the results of several RFQ/RFIs developed to solve problems defined in the ONUG reports. This would provide an opportunity for active engagement of enterprise IT experts and the vendor community. I believe this could make ONUG’s October meeting one of the more valuable infrastructure meetings of 2014.

This effort dovetails well with the coming publication of the Gigaom Research Sector Roadmap on SDN. The demand and awareness for SDN is high with recent surveys indicating that 87% of customers will have production deployments by next year. The market has progressed from “network controllers using the OpenFlow protocol” to a more comprehensive view that addresses specific use cases and customer needs. The Sector Roadmap will identify key issues that need to be addressed in the use of SDN in the enterprise and networking infrastructure as well as describe what players are making important contributions to the SDN marketplace.

I’m looking forward to the ONUG meeting in a couple of weeks to see how industry thought leaders will address many of the outstanding issues with SDN. It will be a great opportunity for enterprise IT users to help plot the course of an important technology as well as provide significant input into vendor thinking.