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For Juniper, OpenFlow is an Important Step on the Path to Network Programmability

by Juniper Employee on ‎10-26-2011 09:55 AM

Earlier today, Juniper announced that we are making the source code that drives our OpenFlow client application available to our SDK partners. For those of you who are not terribly familiar with the technology, OpenFlow.org describes it as:

 

                “a way for researchers to run experimental protocols in the networks they use every day.”

 

However, if the latest buzz in the industry is any indication, OpenFlow is more than just a research project. By decoupling the control plane that determines how packets traverse the network from the underlying hardware that physically moves the packets, OpenFlow has the potential to significantly simplify control and management of networks.

 

So what did Juniper really announce today?

 

We announced that we have been working on an OpenFlow client application (the part of OpenFlow that runs on the network devices and talks ultimately to an OpenFlow controller). And then we announced that we would make the source code for that OpenFlow client available to our SDK partners. Essentially, today was less about telling the world what we have done and more like sharing the fruits of our labors.

 

Ok, but why would we share the source code for our OpenFlow client?

 

First, the OpenFlow client is a great example of what can be done with the Junos SDK. Juniper created APIs into its flagship operating system Junos (and also into Junos Space and Junos Pulse), and one of the best ways to show why that matters is to eat your own dog food so to speak. The OpenFlow application is a great demonstration of what is possible, and we wanted it to serve as an example application for everyone who believes that the future of the network ought not to be confined to only the halls of a handful of vendors in the space.

 

Perhaps more importantly, though, we recognize that OpenFlow is early in its life. It is impossible to predict exactly how OpenFlow will emerge. The best that any of us can do is to test and try things out - use what we learn to shape how we view the technology. Most of us in the high tech world understand that the best ideas are not born out of some mythical aha moment. They are the culmination of dutiful experimentation. Today, we announced that we are enabling more people to participate in those experiments.

 

Now where do we see this going?

 

Many people have latched onto the notion that networks are becoming more complex, and that OpenFlow will allow the intelligence to be extracted out of the physical devices, making an easier-to-manage environment for all. This is absolutely true. However, there is another problem that needs to be solved, and the solution will be key in enabling new types of applications that will drive new revenue streams.

 

Today, there is a divide between the application and network worlds. In many companies, this is a hard divide, identified by different organizations, priorities, and even budgets. These worlds need to be more closely tied through a bidirectional communication path. The network has information that is critical to applications, and it needs to share that information in a way that is easy and straightforward. Similarly, the applications themselves have information that is critical to the network, and they need to share that information. This exchange of information (and subsequent utilization in a dynamic environment) is network programmability.

 

OpenFlow is an important aspect of bringing these two worlds together. Someone has to be able to tell the devices on the network how to behave. Accordingly, this next step in OpenFlow’s introduction is a big one. But trust me when I say that there are more steps to come. For those of you interested in what those might be, have a look at our thoughts from our recent discussions at the Open Networking Forum and Carrier Ethernet World Congress.

 

Stay tuned in for more on network programmability.

 

Today, we’ll  be joining Google, Yahoo, NEC, Big Switch and others at the OpenFlow Symposium in San Jose for an discussion about what OpenFlow is, what it does and how we, as a community of vendors, users, partners and educators, can use it to make the network more effective and more efficient. Even if you can’t make it in person, the full event will be streamed live from the event page.

 

We’ll round out this week with participation in the Tech Field Day on Thurs. and Fri. in Silicon Valley. We’ll exchange ideas and even some insightful banter with a group of independent thought leaders, primarily on data center networking technologies, including OpenFlow.

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