Computer networking industry analyst Nick Lippis of Lippis Enterprises is co-founder and co-chairman of the Open Networking Users Group (ONUG), which aims to create business value for IT leaders by advocating for open interoperable hardware and software-defined infrastructure solutions. This spring, ONUG will host its semi-annual conference in Silicon Valley where IT executives and vendors will focus on issues including network automation, security, and open hybrid cloud.
SDxCentral: ONUG meets twice a year to discuss developments in open interoperable hardware and software-defined infrastructure. With the industry evolving so rapidly, have there been any major developments since ONUG last met in the fall?
Lippis: We’ve seen three major types of changes in that time: in the wide-area network (WAN), around the data center itself, and around white boxes, where you take merchant hardware like a bare metal switch and load any operating system on top of it.
The area of biggest change is the growing adoption of software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN). The value proposition is just so strong. It’s not just about economics and lowering costs, but also about where applications are being placed now and how application portfolios are being distributed between both public and private networks. Most IT executives realize that the WAN design of the 90s just doesn’t work for today’s IT delivery chain. I think SD-WAN is going to continue to see the biggest ramp-up.
In the data center, we’re seeing a movement toward overlays, which deal with connecting virtual end points, such as VM-to-VM or container-to-container. That activity is growing at a pretty fast pace, but there’s still a major disconnect around how underlays and overlays interact with each other and how that is managed. ONUG is spending a lot of time and focus right now on this lack of visibility for overlays.
With white boxes, the market has progressed into hyperscale companies like Facebook and Google, but it hasn’t reached the enterprise marketplace in any kind of criticality. On one hand, there’s a lot of interest in them because switch operating systems – both open and proprietary – are starting to have hooks into automation. On the other, there’s still a question around the maturity of open operating systems for switches. Plus, there’s the reality of actually integrating and managing the whole system when you get your OS from one place and switches from another. There’s an inertia when it comes to taking on that additional work, and the economic value remains elusive.
How would you describe the status of software-defined infrastructure in the industry as a whole?
Lippis: The transition from hardware- to software-based infrastructure is fundamentally underway, but there are pockets that cause people to pause. Questions still exist around management, visibility, automation, and security. We also still need to consider interoperability, and how a software world and a physical world are supposed to connect with each other.
As infrastructures migrate toward software and hybrid cloud models, there must be places for open interfaces to ensure healthy competition within the industry. ONUG is striving for a new social contract in the industry: vendors get rewarded for new solutions that work with open interfaces, and IT executives get rewarded with a lower cost basis and new options to ensure their businesses are more competitive.
One of the key focus areas at the conference will be network automation. Why is network automation so important, and what are you doing to help people accelerate it?
Lippis: Network automation and network management have been afterthoughts in the networking industry for a very long time. Now we’re at a point where compute has become very automated. Storage is now benefiting from orchestration and distributed computing tools because it’s tied into compute. Networking is trailing significantly behind both in its ability to be automated and in its latency characteristics. It requires significantly more people to manage the infrastructure, compared to compute or storage, and introduces one of the largest delays in terms of overall application performance.
IT executives want flexibility, options, agility, and choice. We made network automation a key focus for this ONUG because companies need it for increasing corporate agility and competitiveness while providing operational cost relief. We will offer a session specifically dedicated to this topic, and recently launched the ONUG Grand Challenge Hackathon where developers from around the globe will compete for prizes in the important area of network automation. We also have an ONUG Working Group focused exclusively on network automation that will deliver papers and strongly advocate for existing and new ONUG standards.
What are some of the biggest challenges organizations face in automation their networks?
Lippis: Today, there are almost no tools for users to automate their networks. ONUG and our working groups are focusing on network management, but without interoperability and a method for managing this new environment, users are left with an unfortunate trade off between a closed hardware-based environment or a closed software-based environment. We don’t want that to happen. We strive to promote a healthy, open ecosystem that allows people to invest in technology, service, and support.
The industry doesn’t have a common data format yet. Companies are starting to offer open APIs, which is important, but these APIs don’t have the same kind of data formatting across organizations. We need a common data structure in APIs so DevOps and IT executives have a bi-communication format that lets them pull data out of the infrastructure and program into the infrastructure.
Introducing a common data structure across different companies also allows users to create databases so we can start looking at the networking infrastructure in terms of analytics and behavior, including how capacity is being consumed. Then we can make better decisions, such as where applications should be hosted to deliver the best performance. A restful API is fine as long as it’s published, but we need a common data format within those APIs so users can manipulate them across vendors. That is fundamentally key, but we don’t have it yet.
What are other important areas of focus when it comes to open interoperable hardware and software-defined infrastructure?
Lippis: A very important area of focus is network security. As we move toward a software-defined world, security is lagging behind. ONUG’s Software-Defined Security Services Working Group focuses on how to secure the software infrastructure to ensure users have access to the same level of security or better as they move from the physical to the software world. This working group is organizing a framework for software-defined security services that defines what security means in a software-defined world, both from an exploit mitigation point of view and from a compliance point of view. The group will present the framework at the ONUG Spring Conference.
Another important initiative focuses on open hybrid cloud. In response to the industry’s movement toward open hybrid cloud, we started ONUG’s Open Hybrid Cloud Working Group to develop common frameworks for areas such as technical architecture and security. It is important for IT executives to have options to ensure they don’t get locked into one cloud provider. This working group will focus on avoiding lock-in and will identify new areas of concern. Our goal is to provide constructive recommendations for the industry and a framework to help IT executives as they develop their own hybrid cloud strategies.
This spring will be the first time ONUG hosts a conference on the west coast. Why did you choose to host one here now?
Lippis: ONUG is committed to providing a forum that is predominantly populated with IT executives. Given the high number of vendors on the West Coast, we thought this might present a challenge. Over the last few years, however, we have been approached by numerous IT executives on the West Coast who have reiterated their interest in a local event.
I have observed an interesting difference between the types of businesses on the east coast versus the west coast. On the east coast, there are more legacy businesses that have been in place a hundred years or more, such as all the major financial institutions. On the west coast, companies have been very innovative in taking IT and using it to drive business. PayPal, E-Trade, Amazon, eBay – these businesses exist because they adopted IT to create value. That’s a big difference from the way the east coast companies have evolved.
There’s a unique set of requirements on the west coast and the pull was strong enough to bring us there now. This spring, the ONUG Working Groups will encourage the vendor community to engage and collaborate on standards activities in certain areas. This is an important initiative given the west coast’s large vendor population.
At its essence, ONUG is a community that’s working to redefine how the industry deals with open interoperable hardware and software-defined infrastructure. A key part of this seems to be your working groups. Tell us a little about how working groups are formed.
Lippis: Working groups are ONUGs organizing principle to harness both the engineering talent and the budget procurement prowess of our community. When ONUG was launched, the ONUG Board discussed our priorities for use cases. We agreed that the use cases we select should be determined not only by board members but the ONUG Community as a whole. For this reason, we provide the opportunity for attendees to vote on use cases at each event. The top three use cases become candidates for working groups. This method of selection ensures that our use cases cover the most pressing questions in our industry.
Anyone can sign up to join one of our working groups and vendors are encouraged to join the working groups to collaborate on interoperable PoCs and to develop standards based on the requirements set by IT executives.
Which working groups have been formed most recently?
Lippis: Software-defined security and open hybrid cloud are the newest working groups. We also recently introduced ONUG’s Network Services Broker Working Group. This working group concentrates on how network services get brokered between infrastructure and requests coming in to business managers. These findings will also be presented at this upcoming ONUG.
The ONUG Academy provides hands-on training during the conference. What will be the focus of Academy sessions this spring?
Lippis: ONUG Academy is designed for IT executives, vendors, and those in operational roles. As we transition from hardware to software, workforces also need to transition their skillsets. As companies move away from siloed IT organizations and skillsets, the industry requires broader, full-stack engineers.
We’ve hand-picked courses that will enhance IT executive skillsets so they are better prepared and positioned for these full-stack engineers in the marketplace. We will have tutorials on security, SD-WAN, white box, network automation, and virtual pods. Eventually we would love to provide certification as a part of the Academy.
Sounds like you will be covering a lot of ground at the conference. We look forward to hearing what comes out of it. Thanks for talking to us today.
Lippis: Thank you for having me.
About Nick Lippis
Nick Lippis is an authority on corporate computer networking. He has designed some for the largest computer networks in the world. He has advised many Global 2000 firms on network strategy, architecture, equipment, services and implementation including Hughes Aerospace, Barclays Bank, Kaiser Permanente, Eastman Kodak Company, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), Liberty Mutual, Schering-Plough, Sprint, WorldCom, Cisco Systems, Nortel Networks and a wide range of other equipment suppliers and service providers.
Mr. Lippis is uniquely positioned to comment, analyze and observe computer networking industry trends and developments. At Lippis Enterprises, Inc., Nick works with entrepreneurs evaluating new business opportunities in enterprise networking and serves as an independent investor and advisor.
ONUG is the leading community of IT executives focused on enabling greater choice and options for IT business leaders by advocating open interoperable hardware and software-defined infrastructure solutions that span across the entire IT stack, all in an effort to create business value. The ONUG Board is composed of IT leaders from Bank of America, BNY Mellon, Cigna, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, FedEx, Fidelity Investments, Gap Inc., GE, Intuit, JPMorgan Chase, the Lippis Report, Morgan Stanley, Pfizer, UBS, and Yahoo. For more on ONUG, go to www.OpenNetworkingUserGroup.com or follow us on Twitter @ONUG_.