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Open source networking on the rise, says ONF
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Open source networking on the rise, says ONF 

Pitt also believes that open software-defined networking (SDN) will be a requirement for network operators, emerging OpenFlow products will become a standard of choice and that the demand for SDN skills training will be in high demand in the coming year. The executive director of ONF shared his insights into his predictions for open SDN in 2015 and beyond.

“Even in the best of circumstances, open-source software makes sense only in certain places,” Pitt noted. “Commonly used protocol stacks, for example, do not make any vendor unique, so these might as well be commonly developed using open-source software. It is in roles like these that open-source software will become the norm.”

Pitt expressed optimism about the adoption of open SDN. “Even as such, there are not so much barriers as challenges to its being used successfully,” he commented. “When an open-source project produces a complete, freely available product, network operators still need either a third party to service and support it, or skilled programmers of their own to do so. When an open-source project serves only to save vendors from duplicating efforts, and they then embed pieces of the software into proprietary products, the open-source software needs to be sufficiently modular and have the right external interfaces. Defining just where multivendor interfaces make sense is an ongoing challenge for the industry. The ideal interfaces in networking are immediately above and immediately below a networking function that represents a common building block, so that vendors can innovate and compete with differentiated products above and below these interfaces, respectively. If these interfaces are in the wrong place, innovation gets stifled or development efforts are unnecessarily duplicated.”

These obstacles are not insurmountable, though. “The main method of overcoming these challenges is by experience and continued software innovation,” Pitt explained. “The great thing about open-source software is that if you don’t like it, you can change it. When many parties contribute to its evolution, a piece of open-source software evolves rapidly as experiences guide developers on what best meets customer needs. Perhaps the most direct way of making an open-source software project successful is for the network operators, more than the vendors, to contribute to it. That will certainly assure that it meets operator needs.”

While open source networking might seem as though it would hurt vendors, Pitt sees business opportunities available. “As open-source SDN is adopted, we will see new game-changing players emerge, and the fact that their solutions are open will give them a definite advantage,” he remarked. “We’re already seeing incredible innovation come from many SDN startup companies, and we expect this to continue as the movement evolves. And as even more open-source solutions become available, we will see the benefits trickle down to end users and ultimately their customers. With open software, anyone can play, so competition is greater than it is when hardware is bundled with software.”

Even vendors are experiencing gains from open source networking. “As for the benefits of open-source software for incumbent vendors, they are already finding that they can share development efforts and costs with other contributors to open-source projects, for networking components that do not require much differentiation between vendors,” Pitt said. “This speeds development and allows them to innovate in areas that bring unique value to their products.”

As a result of the high demand for open source networking, the need for skilled professionals will also grow. “Generally speaking, an engineer should acquire technical and engineering-level knowledge of SDN technologies, architectures, deployment solutions, and software skills for internal development,” Pitt stated. “Indeed, the most valuable jobs in networking will be for software developers that, unlike application developers, have an understanding of distributed network systems. But an entry-level IT professional will only need a basic understanding of SDN technologies, at least to begin with. Regardless, having that foundational knowledge of open SDN will be essential at all levels.”

The ONF is offering a way for companies to find qualified candidates. “To help with this, ONF is in the process of developing a skills certification program – the ONF-Certified SDN Professional Program – that will provide practitioners with a recognized standard to evaluate individuals’ SDN knowledge and skills,” Pitt noted. “This program is vendor-neutral and will focus on providing foundational credentials in open SDN.”

“The advancement of the open SDN movement depends on there being enough professionals skilled in SDN technologies to move their employers to successful adoption and deployment of SDN technologies, so employers are keen on finding skilled staff,” Pitt concluded. “Networking engineers, meanwhile, will find their legacy skills such as command-line interface configuration to be of decreasing value in the marketplace, so to stay in demand they are wanting to upgrade their skills.”

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