Some Impressions from Open Networking Summit 2015

Wendell Odom
By Wendell Odom July 21, 2015 16:05

I’ve used the Open Networking Summit (ONS 15) the last few years as part of my education plan to re-tool for the word of SDN and NFV. You can too – the ONS posts videos from most of the sessions (except those that cost a few extra $$.) While I think it’s worth attending the show for the hallway conversations alone, I think you can pick up a lot from just watching the sessions.

I plan a few posts about things I learned at the show; to start, this post hits a few highlights about a few speakers and topics that made a particularly strong impression.

Quick Aside

Sorry it took a while to make this post. This blog site got infected, and I’ve spent all my blog time working to overcome the problem. Should be back on track now!


Small Appetizers

To get rolling, here are a few big observations from the show – things that might not jump out at you if you just cherry pick a few of the videos to watch.

First, Open Source software rules. Open Daylight was of course prominently mentioned, but so was ONOS. But it wasn’t just an issue of open source controllers, but the idea that all SDN software should be delivered as open source software. Vendor-owned software that follows open protocols is old; open source software available for all to participate in its formation is where SDN should go (at least per the messaging at the show).

Action, products, and use cases, were rampant. We can easily search online for articles questioning when SDN might become a big and normal part of networking, but there’s no lack of activity.

Looking under the covers a bit, the mechanisms used to implement what each person calls SDN still varies wildly. If you view SDN as a target, with your own definition of SDN dead center, but other common definitions somewhere within the rings of the target, then SDN still has many directions and options for how it’s done. At the ONS 15 show, dead center is the traditional ONF definition, with the familiar centralized control plane and distributed data plane, and delivered with open source software. But even at the show, different variations abounded, and that will probably continue.

Finally, the two years I’ve been to the show, the best way I found to get a pulse on the industry was to listen to messaging from Dan Pitt of ONF. In short:

“We are on a Journey from PDF to Python”

Paraphrasing, instead of only defining protocols like OpenFlow (although important), today the focus is on delivering working open foundational software containing all the common features all of us would use. Imagine a world in which rather than delivering standards, followed by N vendors going back to write code that overlapped with their competitors by 80%, all vendors started with a common open source code base that already contained that 80% of the core functions. For SDN, the hope would be to use open source projects for most SDN controllers, most switch OS instances, most switch forwarding table processors/compilers, and most L4-L7 service insertion logic, etc. That’s the gist of the quote.

Now on to a couple of specific talks that made an impact on me!


John Vrionis – General Partner – Lightspeed Venture Partners

As part of the closing panel of the show, John Vrionis, a venture capitalist, commented about open source and SDN. I would have loved to listen to John speak much longer – his may have been my favorite 10-12 minutes of the show, if I had to pick one short talk. It’s worth a listen. It’s a venture capitalist’s view of what’s going on in SDN. It’s part of a panel talk, so you’ll need to skip ahead.

John Vrionis – Open Source is Ready for Prime Time – Are You? (41:30)

I have resisted the urge to give a complete outline of his talk (although it’s easy to cull his outline from the talk.) One point that jumped out that might work well for this summary was that “we’re in the middle of a tornado”, and startups are like little boats – they’ll all be able to get up some good speed in the middle of this storm. He’s betting heavily on some SDN startups, and John listed five particular areas:

  1. Network Management
  2. L4-L7 services
  3. Next gen switches
  4. Network OS
  5. Silicon


Omar Baldanado, Facebook, Open Compute Project

Omar manages the Facebook networking team, and is the chairperson of the Open Compute Project networking area. He participated in a panel, where he got about 10 minutes to talk (with a Q&A at the end). He also had close to an hour to present at one the extra days of the show, which as a result isn’t posted at the ONS site. First, here’s the link to what you can see:

Omar Baldonado – Facebook – Experiences with SDN and NFV Deployments Panel

Let me comment about a couple of points from the session you can’t see, because he had time there to make some detailed points of interest to us network engineers. Omar has the entire Facebook network team working for him. Facebook has clearly taken SDN approaches to heart.


Facebook Network Automation History

First, he worked through Facebook’s early approaches to software automation and control of the network – that is, the software-defined part of the challenge. He emphasized repeatedly that even though Facebook has been early adopters, they are barely 1% on their journey. There’s lots to do.

For instance, Omar said that their networking devices were generating 3.37 Billion syslog messages/month. Clearly, throwing people at the problem wasn’t going to help. So their first project wasn’t creating a great SDN controller and building their own OpenFlow switches… it was automating syslog message filtering, combining, reaction, etc. He gave some interesting stats on how much they just completely discard, how many they now combine into one more meaningful message, which ones can be automatically replied to, which ones automatically create a ticket with the WAN carrier, and so on.

His point to us: all of us can find something we do, automate it, improve, build skills, move on to the next thing. Find your 1% to get started working.


Facebook Networking Org Chart

His second topic that I’m choosing to mention deals with the whole skills topic that has us buzzing from time to time. Omar has organized his networking group (not IT, but specifically networking) into three parts: traditional engineering, DevOps engineering, and development. Each part if roughly 1/3 of the staff. But he’s not claiming it’s the magic formula, completely tested even within Facebook. It was a refreshing talk – this is what we’re trying, we’ll let you know how it goes, that kind of thing.

The big takeaways for me: programming for network automation, even if you never program a switch forwarding table, will happen to/for all of us with long networking careers. And DevOps is a bigger part of the SDN story than the chatter that we normally hear.


AT&T Domain 2.0 Transformation

For those who haven’t heard, AT&T has proceeded with a plan called Domain 2.0, transforming their entire network, with SDN, NFV, and Open Source and key elements of the effort. AT&T contributed several executive speakers with plenty of stage time. Here are two of particular interest if you’re looking to listen to just a few talks from ONS 15:

John Donovan – Keynote Speech

Andre Fuetsch – Keynote Panel: Service Provider Adoption of SDN/NFV: from Talk to Action (3:00)

John is Senior Executive Vice President of AT&T Technology and Operations. He’s also a great speaker and clearly states AT&T’s vision. Anyone who cares about where our industry is headed would do well to listen from comments about articles from John, or read his blog.

Andre Fuetsch is Senoir Vice President of Domain 2.0 Architecture and Design, and works for John. His talk (linked above) focused on AT&T’s Domain 2.0 plans, but also about the skills transformation at AT&T. He spoke of the 2000 engineers working on Domain 2.0, the specific skills they were hoping to add to the current staff, and how they were doing it.

I plan to write more about how AT&T (and others) work impacts what each of us can and should be doing for our own skills transformation. So I’ll leave this section with the usual suggestion: worth the time to watch the above short video snips.


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Wendell Odom
By Wendell Odom July 21, 2015 16:05
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1 Comment

  1. Ghostkeeper July 22, 17:46

    Thanks for giving us the run down of the event. Looks like some great material to go check out.

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