OpenDaylight, an open source software-defined networking (SDN) controller, aims to tear down the barriers to SDN adoption in the enterprise. SDN controllers allow the separation of flow control (i.e., how packets get from point A to point B) from the physical network hardware.
At a recent Software Defined Data Center (SDDC) symposium, Neela Jacques, the Executive Director of OpenDaylight, said enterprise network managers are fully aware of the benefits of SDN, but they are reluctant to commit to an SDN controller amongst the confusion. He says the two primary reasons for the lack of SDN adoption are technology fragmentation and duplication of efforts.
A number of controllers have hit the market, and there are many more in development. The list includes open source projects OpenFlow, OpenContrail, and the soon to be released Cisco Application Centric Interface (ACI), which is proprietary. VMware's NSX has its own controller as well.
Despite the long list of controllers, there are currently no standards that allow interoperability of controllers and underlying hardware. If a new open source project or vendor wants to create a new controller, it must work with each hardware provider independently. It has taken years for the major providers to support OpenFlow, the original SDN controller. Jacques' argument is that this has basically frozen enterprise network managers in their decision making process about SDN.
The OpenDaylight project's promise is to unite all of the controllers by offering a standard that network hardware providers and other software controllers can embrace. Once OpenDaylight becomes that standard northbound interface, other controllers can leverage OpenDaylight to gain consistency across multiple vendors. The argument is rooted in the fact that OpenDaylight is open source and, therefore, not a threat to traditional network vendors. The idea is to build an ecosystem similar to OpenStack, where vendors flock to OpenDaylight as part of a thought leadership land grab.
OpenDaylight's technical and political challenges
The question for early adopters is: How mature is the platform?
Similar to the early years of OpenStack (which is only four years old as of this writing), the OpenDaylight project is very ambitious; the effort to create a single controller to rule all other controllers is daunting, and there are technical and political challenges.
OpenDaylight is actively looking for contributors to help bring it to the maturity level where it can become a supported project. The project has to convince the industry that their vision is the right one to rally around. There has been some success with Extreme Networks recently announcing support and several vendors, including Cisco, as major contributors to the project. Supporters are quick to tell potential end users that this is still a beta-level solution.
If your organization is starting to look into SDN and isn't pressured to deliver on the promises of SDN, I think OpenDaylight should receive some of your research resources. However, if you want to gain the competitive advantages promised by SDN, I recommend looking at a more mature controller such as OpenFlow or NSX and keeping your eye on OpenDaylight and potentially integrating it into a future revision of your SDN infrastructure.
Keith Townsend is a technology management consultant with more than 15 years of related experience designing, implementing, and managing data center technologies. His areas of expertise include virtualization, networking, and storage solutions for Fortune 500 organizations. He holds a BA in computing and a MS in information technology from DePaul University.