Open Network Foundation to Promote New Network Architecture


This morning brings news of what may become another new and important consortium – the Open Network Foundation (ONF).  This time the goal is to adapt network architecture to streamline its interoperation with cloud computing. And while the news is intriguing, the way in which it has been broken is a bit odd, on which more below.
According to the press release announcing the new entity:
Six companies that own and operate some of the largest networks in the world — Deutsche Telekom, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Verizon, and Yahoo! — announced today the formation of the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting a new approach to networking called Software-Defined Networking (SDN). Joining these six founding companies in creating ONF are 17 member companies, including major equipment vendors, networking and virtualization software suppliers, and chip technology providers. 

The technology that the new foundation will promote has been some time in the making, growing out of a six year collaboration between Stanford and the University of California Berkeley. The results are what ONF calls “Software-Defined Networking,” or SNF. SNF incorporates a software interface referred to as “OpenFlow” and a set of global management interfaces upon which management tools can be built.  The essential goal appears to enable the creation of “programmable networks” (large and small) that can have “fast lanes” that give priority of transmission to specified data.

Notwithstanding the group of powerhouse companies that are apparently now going to adopt SNF, a picture of the developers of the OpenFlow specification reveals, not surprisingly, a group that looks fresh out of a university computer lab.  According to The OpenFlow Website, 

The OpenFlow Switching specification was created in 2008 to evangelize and support OpenFlow. Although hosted at Stanford University, our goal is for OpenFlow to be owned by the community – for the betterment of research and innovation in networking. The OpenFlow Switching Specification has been developed through weekly meetings and open meetings.
The page goes on to invite anyone to join the mailing lists and browse through the group’s weekly meeting minutes.)
What I find curious about the public launch is the hodge-podge manner in which it occurred, in part at Interop Las Vegas. More impressively, there is a lengthy article in the business section of the New York Times – a very difficult story placement for any PR team to pull off.  Curiously enough, though, the URL for the ONF itself lands you on a single basic Web page, which links back to the low key OpenFlow Web site. Usually, for an announcement of this type there would be a brand new, glossy website sporting graphics, logos and more to lend credibility to the public launch.  
Notwithstanding the absence of a flashy Web site, the press release indicates that the foundation has already been legally formed, and implies that it has already achieved tax exempt status as well.  Even more strangely, no information is given about how additional companies may apply. Finally, the press release is bylined Portland, Oregon rather than anywhere near the two universities where the development work to date has apparently occurred, and the text of the footer on the press release suggests that ONF has been legally organized in Oregon as well.

It will be interesting to watch this one, and in particular what shows up at its Web site and when. Meantime, take a look at the NYT article, which takes a deep dive into what the business/technical mission is all about.