Just recently our ONF Connect 2019 event gave us a chance as a community to look back at the tremendous progress we have made, to look forward to what’s in store and what might be possible as we continue our journey.
SDN and OpenFlow started our movement driving network transformation and today provide the foundation for the commercial deployments just announced by Comcast and planned by many additional operators. And while this work progresses at break-neck speed, parallel efforts have taken shape to chart the course for what’s to come in the SDN space.
At ONF Connect, Nick McKeown (one of the “fathers” of SDN) shared a vision for what comes next. He put into perspective what we’ve achieved and charts a path forward that will turn the network into a nimble, programmable, verifiable resource for application developers. You can check out his keynote talk here:
Nick’s talk lays out quite a vision. Imagine a network that enables app developers to design and push functionality directly into the network much like they can push a container into a cloud execution environment. The network effectively becomes a distributed computing platform optimized for certain workloads. Functions like load balancing or user plane packet processing can be implemented with 100x efficiency directly in the network rather than running these in a server VNF.
Furthermore, the network becomes ‘observable’ in real-time, making possible verification and automated execution of self-corrective action, thus minimizing the risk of deploying changes. This in turn enables rapid experimentation and deployment of updates and unleashes upon the network an unprecedented platform for innovation.
ONF’s Open Source NG-SDN Software Stack
While a visionary goal gives us something to shoot for, the ONF has been all about using actual open source implementations as a catalyst to demonstrate what’s possible and to drive transformation. ONF is using this same model to drive the NG-SDN agenda, and is implementing an open source stack to deliver on the vision that Nick outlined in his talk. This stack is poised to deliver a programmable, hardware independent, self verifying infrastructure for operators and application developers. The NG-SDN stack combines a number of major components to deliver these capabilities, including:
NG-SDN Software Stack Functional Blocks
These pieces work together, leveraging the NG-SDN interfaces P4, P4Runtime, gNMI, gNOI and openConfig to create open source implementation supporting an unprecedented level of innovation, full lifecycle management and zero touch operation.
To learn more, check out this series of interconnected presentations to see how ONF’s NG-SDN stack is coming together:
See the slides here.
Stratum – Forming the Foundation of the Stack
While NG-SDN might sound like it’s a long way off, the first pieces are already available. In fact Stratum, the first component of the stack, was released to open source just this month. Stratum is a thin-switch operating system run on white box switches. It exposes all the NG-SDN interfaces north-bound to make possible all the capabilities of NG-SDN. Here’s a great overview of Stratum to help you level up on the news:
Download the slides here.
In fact, NG-SDN is far enough along in its incubation that it warranted a multi-day track at ONF Connect. There were a wide spectrum of talks, and even an in depth tutorial for those wanting to get their hands dirty with early implementations of the stack.
NG-SDN in the Context of ONF’s Full Portfolio of Projects
Putting this all in the context of the ONF’s big picture, I think it helps to understand that the NG-SDN stack is getting crafted in parallel with the CORD platforms that are riding on top of the stack. Integral to ONF’s strategy is ensuring a seamless migration path so that the upper level platforms can gracefully start to take advantage of the new underlay NG-SDN stack without a hard cut-over.
In fact, the community has already shown Trellis running on a mix of OpenFlow and Stratum switches, as well as a SEBA prototype of a software-defined BNG (SD-BNG) user plane running in P4 fabric.
Looking at all this exciting work, it feels like we are at the start of something big. So far we’ve only seen a taste of what’s to come. Once application developers get their hands on network programmability, I expect we’ll see new and novel implementations that transform the way we think of networking. And as a result, operators will be able to innovate as has never before been possible, opening up avenues for transformation and new value creation.
We’ve been on a remarkable journey, but I think we can all sense that the best is yet to come.