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OpenDaylight: SDN Value Isn't In the Controller

OpenDaylight's new executive director touts open source as a force in the software defined networking market.

It’s no coincidence that most network vendors in the SDN space want to control the controller. As the device that mediates between applications at one end and network hardware at the other, the controller becomes the linchpin of the software-defined network. Cisco, VMware, HP, Juniper, NEC and others are all pushing their own controller platforms (and in Cisco’s case, two different controllers).

Enter the OpenDaylight Project, which is building an open-source controller (among other efforts). Nicolas Jacques, the project’s new executive director, acknowledged the controller’s role in SDN, but said that’s not where the value is.

“As I looked around at the SDN controller space, every company was re-inventing the wheel,” he said in an interview. “For the most part, they pretty much do the same thing.”

“The value is in the stuff you connect to the controller -- network services on top, the gear at the bottom, and the management platforms on the side.”

By building an open-source controller platform that attracts a robust community, Jacques argues that this will create a vibrant ecosystem and allow vendors to innovate (and profit) in other areas. “Nobody is making money at the controller layer, but there’s tons of money to be made in adjacent areas.”

It would also help customers, he argued. “Customers don’t want multiple SDN controllers, but there is no one vendor that has everything they need,” he said. “Customers want a platform that everybody else plugs in to.” If Jacques gets his way, that would be OpenDaylight.

Of course, the big network vendors aren’t going to give up their own controllers, and Jacques knows it. However, he’s confident that the open-source community will create enough heat around OpenDaylight to keep the controller in the game.

Part of the challenge is attracting third-party application vendors, such as load balancing or security companies, to write applications that interact with the controller or can run on top of network services in an SDN environment. These vendors have limited resources and will focus their initial effort on perceived market leaders.

Jacques acknowledged that most third-party vendors will be drawn to the top commercial products, but said there’s room for open source as well. “I think vendors will look at two leading players and an open source, and they’ll see OpenDaylight as one of the leading vendors.” He noted that the project has more than 100 developers already.

He also pointed to another open-source project that has attracted significant interest from vendors and independent developers alike. “People wrote off OpenStack to say there’s no way this collaborative effort will take shape. Guess what? You don’t want to be dismissing this because you have a whole bunch of customers interested in OpenStack.”

OpenDaylight’s vitality comes from its focus on code, said Jacques.

“What I’ve found is that people have debates, but the question always comes back to ‘Great argument, but do you have code to submit?’ If not, can you come back to the table in a few weeks, then we can evaluate it,” he said. “If you only do PowerPoint, it won’t get you far in this environment.”

“This is an open-source software project and code is the coin of the realm.”

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