Ronny Lam


The Dark Side of Openflow

Let’s start by saying that I really like Openflow and the problem it is trying to solve. Software Defined Networking brings some possibilities that we never had before. Programmability of the network allows us take decisions in network flows on a higher level than in traditional networking. Central configuration of the network allows us to define flows throughout the entire network without depending on the routing and forwarding decisions of a single node.

Openflow sounds like Open source, and the specification of the protocol gives the feeling that there is indeed a lot of openness. But the ONF, Open Networking Foundation, has always given me a strange feeling. Unlike the IETF, where everyone can join the ONF is a closed foundation that can only be joined through an annual membership fee of $30.000. An amount of money that can not be payed by small start-ups and research teams. While the academic community has had a big role in the development of Openflow the specification is now defined by companies that have a lot of money to spend.

Dan Pitt, ONF executive director, said the fees pay the bills at the foundation, but just as importantly, they limit participation to only those who are “seriously committed” to commercially productizing OpenFlow and seeing it implemented in enterprise and operator networks.

One of the main reasons to start a body outside the IETF was that the big vendors like Cisco were defining the agenda over there, the same seems to be happening to the ONF now.

Beyond contributing to the standard, engineers want more information about OpenFlow protocol development. They are reluctant to invest in the technology without this information.

I feel exactly the same way. Information about Openflow is scarce and the only way to get to the real information is by paying $30.000. This is not only going to be a problem for future development of Openflow, but also for the acceptance. Openflow or the like is not going away, but it might not be ONF Openflow in the future.

Thanks to Rivka Gewirtz Little for this excellent article as a confirmation for my feelings.