Cisco’s recent enrollment as a sponsor of the ONOS project isn’t necessarily a testimonial for the network operating system. Rather, it’s a part of a wider plan to get more involved with open source communities, which increasingly seem to be deciding the direction of networking.
You would expect Cisco to keep an eye on those efforts, since they’re a spawning ground for possible competitors. But Cisco claims open source is also a way for the company to better itself.
David Ward considers that part of his job. As chief technology and architecture officer, he says he’s also become something of a “chief disruption officer” for Cisco. And part of that mission is to get Cisco tapped into the open source world.
Cisco being Cisco, its presence in open source projects will always be viewed with some suspicion. But the company really does want to hear new points of view around the automation and programming of networks, Ward says.
“My job is to place a lot of bets and be involved in the deeper community around networking. So if ONOS is where a lot of smart people are hanging out, I want to be involved,” Ward says. “The sponsorship of ONOS is coming from me and my group.”
That group is a small army of 275 that includes Cisco’s representatives in open source projects such as the OpenDaylight Project. Ward’s group spreads that work across the Cisco portfolio.
“John [Chambers, CEO] and Pankaj [Patel, chief development officer] have enabled me and this entire group to innovate our asses off,” Ward says. The effort “has really shaped how we develop our next-generation products,” such as Cisco’s virtual evolved packet core (EPC) for mobile networks and its virtual cable modem termination system (CMTS) for CableLabs, he says.
Cisco has undergone what Chambers describes as pre-emptive changes aimed at adapting the company for the major changes that seem to be happening in networking. The Internet of Things and the rise of software-oriented business models are two of the areas Cisco needed to accommodate, he said on an earnings call earlier this month. In August, Cisco announced layoffs of roughly 6,000, and since then, it’s replaced more than 30 percent of its leadership, Chambers said on the call.
In becoming more of a software company, Cisco has also been giving more love to developers, via the formalized DevNet organization run by Vice President Susie Wee. DevNet made a splash at Cisco Live last summer in San Francisco, and it was also a hit at the recent Cisco Live in Milan, Italy, Ward says.
“We dramatically underestimated the pent-up demand to not only work with our platform and APIs, but to work with open source as well,” he says.
That’s related to open source software as well, because Cisco Certified Internetwork Experts (CCIEs) — people who make a living working on Cisco gear — see the changes coming to networking, too. They see open source participation and DevOps as being crucial to their careers.
ONOS vs. OpenDaylight
So, back to ONOS. Cisco and SK Telecom were announced last week as sponsors of the project, which has developed an open source network operating system. It’s being run by the nonprofit ON.Lab and launched in November with sponsors including AT&T, Huawei, and Intel.
Just because Cisco is joining the ONOS ranks doesn’t mean it’s throwing all its weight behind the operating system, though. To Cisco, ONOS is one of many open source projects that’s interesting enough to keep an eye on, Ward says.
Ward describes it as an extension of Cisco’s process of developing technology hand-in-hand with certain customers. Some customers want to do that work in the open, and Cisco is going along with that, he says.
ONOS’ mission seems to overlap that of OpenDaylight, which is developing an open framework for an SDN controller. ONOS specifically targets service providers, though, and in that regard, it’s not competing with OpenDaylight, Ward says.
ONOS is trying to work across devices and across the network, whereas OpenDaylight is more focused around the SDN controller, he says. OpenDaylight isn’t (yet) interested in, say, orchestration of the entire service provider network.
Put another way, OpenDaylight’s mission involves nurturing a multitude of protocols around SDN — OpenFlow and alternatives southbound, and whatever conventions arise for northbound interfaces, Ward says. By contrast, ONOS “is not headed toward speaking any [protocols] at all,” he says. ONOS is about orchestrating the entire service provider network.
“I certainly hope ONOS doesn’t try to replace, as its target, EMS and NMS systems and go after yesterday’s problems,” Ward says.