How important is software-defined networking? To the Linux Foundation, it's as important as protecting core networking protocols, devising open container standards, supporting development of the R language, and promoting open API specifications. In other words, it's a pretty big deal.
To that end, the Linux Foundation is bringing the Open vSwitch virtual networking project to live under its umbrella as a sponsored effort. While plenty of other networking projects also live at the Foundation, this is one enterprises are likely to find most immediately useful and important.
Open vSwitch, as the name implies, is an open source virtual network switch that runs as a software appliance. It's from other such projects because it's built specifically to address the kinds of NFV and SDN scenarios that show up in virtualized environments.
Aside from employing the OpenFlow protocol for automation, Open vSwitch can be programmatically controlled in many other ways. OpenStack, for instance, uses Open vSwitch as a standard component for managing networks.
But there are plenty of other scenarios in an enterprise where a virtual network switch can play a major role. Open vSwitch is a natural complement to existing enterprise infrastructure that's already virtualized.
Containers, too, make aggressive use of virtual networks, and there's work being done to unsnarl container networking's sometimes thorny behavior. But a higher-level solution via a project like Open vSwitch could be in order, too -- and be a possible future direction of development for the project.
Not another face in the crowd
The big question is how Open vSwitch stands apart from all the other networking projects also sporting the Linux Foundation badge.
Let's start with a sound-alike project that's easily confused with Open vSwitch: OpenSwitch. This network operating system, originally created by HP and a few other collaborative partners, became a Linux Foundation project in June of this year. But it doesn't focus on virtualized environments; it runs on generic network hardware that use common ASICs.
The Open Network Operating System (ONOS) provides an operating system layer for networking at service providers. The Open Platform for NFV Project (OPNFV) sponsors the creation of a "carrier-grade" NFV platform made out of pieces from a number of other projects, including Open vSwitch itself, so Open vSwitch could be thought of as a subset of this project.
There's yet another "open," the OpenDaylight Project, an even more general initiative aimed at using existing open standards like OpenFlow to create an extensible standard for virtual networking.
For enterprises, Open vSwitch stands out by being immediately useful -- virtualized environments are everywhere -- and by being a specific project rather than only a standard-bearing concept. Another possible long-term enterprise benefit, posited back when the project first debuted, is that Open vSwitch helps enterprises "abstract away the underlying [network] hardware and provide organizations with a way to avoid vendor lock-in."
Linux Foundation executive direction Jim Zemlin has said that networking will be one of the big growth areas for the Foundation this year. He didn't mention Open vSwitch at the time, but it's clear that was likely one of the projects in mind. But now the burden is on the Linux Foundation to show its stewardship of Open vSwitch will have tangible benefits for those using it, and not have it rank as merely one of many feathers in its networking cap.