OpenDaylight: A big step toward the software-defined data center

A who's-who of industry players, including Cisco, launches open source project that could make SDN as pervasive as server virtualization

Manual hardware configuration is the scourge of the modern data center. Server virtualization and pooled storage have gone a long way toward making infrastructure configurable on the fly via software, but the third leg of the stool, networking, has lagged behind with fragmented technology and standards.

The OpenDaylight Project -- a new open source project hosted by the Linux Foundation featuring every major networking player -- promises to move the ball forward for SDN (software-defined networking). Rather than hammer out new standards, the project aims to produce an extensible, open source, virtual networking platform atop such existing standards as OpenFlow, which provides a universal interface through which either virtual or physical switches can be controlled via software.

[ Also on InfoWorld: What the software-defined data center really means | The conflicted rise of software-defined networking | Cut straight to the key news for technology development and IT management with the InfoWorld Daily newsletter. ]

The approach of OpenDaylight is similar to that of Hadoop or OpenStack, where industry players come together to develop core open source bits collaboratively, around which participants can add unique value. That roughly describes the Linux model as well, which may help explain why the Linux Foundation is hosting OpenDaylight.

"The Linux Foundation was contacted based on our experience and understanding of how to structure and set up an open community that can foster innovation," said Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, in an embargoed conference call last week. He added that OpenDaylight, which will be written in Java, will be available under the Eclipse Public License.

Collaboration or controversy?
It must be said that the politics of the OpenDaylight Project are mind-boggling. Cisco is on board despite the fact that SDN is widely seen as a threat to the company's dominant position -- because, when the network is virtualized, switch hardware becomes more commoditized. A cynic might be forgiven for wondering whether Cisco is there to rein things in rather than accelerate development.

Along with Cisco, the cavalcade of coopetition includes Arista Networks, Big Switch Networks, Brocade, Citrix, Dell, Ericsson, Fujitsu, HP, IBM, Intel, Juniper Networks, Microsoft, NEC, Nuage Networks, PLUMgrid, Red Hat, and VMware. BigSwitch, perhaps the highest-profile SDN upstart, is planning to donate a big chunk of its Open SDN Suite, including controller code and distributed virtual routing service applications. Although VMware has signed on, it's unclear how the proprietary technology developed by Nicira, the SDN startup acquired for $1.2 billion by VMware last summer, will fit in.

Another question is how OpenDaylight will affect other projects. Some have voiced frustration over the Open Network Foundation's stewardship of the OpenFlow, so OpenDaylight could be a way to work around that organization. Also, OSI president and InfoWorld contributor Simon Phipps wonders why Project Crossbow, an open source network virtualization technology built into Solaris, appears to have no role in OpenDaylight. You can be sure many more questions will emerge in the coming days and weeks.

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