The Open Networking Foundation (ONF) is merging with On.Lab, creating one entity that will curate standards such as OpenFlow while developing software projects such as ONOS and the Central Office Re-Imagined as a Datacenter (CORD).
The groups have begun operating as one organization led by On.Lab Executive Director Guru Parulkar. But the merger won’t legally be completed until next year; August 2017 is the target timeframe. (A non-profit merger turns out to have all the complications of a corporate merger, Parulkar says.)
The merged entity will retain the ONF name, but it’s really the ONF half that is undergoing the most change, as much of the nine-member ONF board has already been replaced. The ONOS and CORD projects, meanwhile, will retain their boards and will continue to operate under the same governance as before.
Dan Pitt, an early leader in the SDN community, had been executive director of the ONF until he stepped down last month. Parulkar, who has assumed Pitt’s job, notes that it was after Pitt’s departure that the ONF approached On.Lab about a merger.
“After Dan left, ONF approached On.Lab, and said they would like to think about merging. I don’t have visibility into the rest of it,” Parulkar says.
Open Source and Standards
Now numbering 109 member companies, the ONF was created in 2011 with the goal of evangelizing software-defined networking (SDN), which at the time was a heavily questioned technology. The foundation also took the lead on organizing standardization efforts around OpenFlow, the southbound protocol which, at the time, was equated with SDN.
On.Lab was the product of some of the same minds as the ONF — Parulkar and Stanford University professor Nick McKeown helped found both organizations as well as the Open Networking Summit (now run by the Linux Foundation). But unlike the ONF, On.Lab was created as a software development house, intended to develop projects such as ONOS and CORD.
Combining these efforts should create a positive feedback loop, Parulkar says. As On.Lab develops open source software, it will spot places where a standardized API or interface could do some good. The work of standardization could be handled by the ONF half of the new organization (call it “ONF Classic”).
That means ONF Classic will continue its work on the OpenFlow standard but could also explore alternatives based on P4, a new language that could be used to program the forwarding plane. A set of standard northbound APIs between the controller and management applications would be another possibility, Parulkar says — one that the ONF has considered before.
The idea is that On.Lab would be producing code at open source speed, avoiding the years-long standards development that the networking industry is accustomed to. “If it is based on working code, use cases, and deployments, then there is relatively less scope for arguing for the sake of arguing,” Parulkar says.
But that work still needs some standards in order to assure interoperability, which is where ONF Classic would come in.
The Niggling Details
Many of the details about the two organizations will remain the same. Membership would cost $500,000 per year, which is what On.Lab currently charges. It will also be possible to join only the ONF Classic half for $30,000 per year, which is what the current ONF charges.
On.Lab’s work will continue to be open-sourced under an Apache 2.0 license. OpenFlow, however, will continue to be offered under a modified RAND-Z license (which stands for “reasonable and non-discriminatory terms” with zero royalties).