Open Network Featured Article

The Diverged Roads of SDN: Do We Need Two Standards?

April 01, 2016

There’s probably not a lot of thought that goes into how and when we communicate with devices, at least if you’re on the user side of Internet connections. You use either a computer or some other device, you utilize an available network, and you complete whatever it is you set out to do. On the backend, there are languages -- multiple ones, in fact – that assist with workload completion, but the open source movement has pared it down to one forum for sharing standards. However, when it comes to software-defined networking (SDN), the community has broken down software-based controllers into two groups: ONOS and OpenDaylight.

The two diverged roads of SDN, according to The New Stack, asks the simple question: why?

It comes down to plain old competition. Leaders of ONOS and OpenDaylight (ODL) are comfortable with their respective places in the limelight of SDN.

“I think there is enough scope for multiplicity, for multiple reasons. One is, if nothing else, competition is good, even in open source,” said Prof. Guru Parulkar, executive director of the Open Networking Research Center and the co-creator of the OpenFlow protocol, according to The New Stack.

Does it make sense for vendors to want a single standard for SDN controllers? Prior to the open source movement, vendors would have been content with a crowded space of controllers. What the open source movement has done is break down the walls of proprietary platforms. The lines between open source and proprietary are becoming blurred as proprietary firms pour resources into open source development. Essentially, the open source community is creating the technologies businesses need to remain competitive.

So what, exactly is the competition between ONOS and ODL? If both are open source, what makes one more attractive than the other? Why not just merge the two?

According to Parulkar, the differentiation is infrastructure and low-level architecture, and that is what matters to service providers.

“They will all benefit a great deal if that infrastructure can be built in a way that helps them compete more effectively with OTT [over-the-top] providers, and they catch up,” said Parulkar. “Then they can focus their energies on the services on the top, and keep inventing new services,” The New Stack reported.

With the relative decline of desktops and rise of mobile devices, open source is becoming the foundation for superior mobile development. Why not two controllers for SDN?  While the open source versus proprietary contest may be ending, for ONOS and ODL it may simply be a philosophical difference, but a difference that still brings value. 

Edited by Rory J. Thompson