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ONF Ramps Up Wireless And Mobile SDN Effort

The Open Networking Foundation's new working group is focused on extending OpenFlow to wireless and mobile networks.

Applying SDN concepts to wireless and mobile networks seems like a natural progression for the revolutionary trend that is software-defined networking, and the Open Networking Foundation is doing just that. The nonprofit, which works to promote SDN and OpenFlow technologies, has launched a wireless and mobile working group to study ways to extend OpenFlow to the wireless industry.

Serge Manning, senior manager for corporate standards at Huawei and recently appointed chairman of the working group, said the group -- which was chartered last fall -- has been developing use cases. This year, the group is taking the next step -- determining architectural and protocol requirements for applying OpenFlow to various wireless areas, he said.

"Today, we can take OpenFlow and get some benefit... but no one has looked at specific wireless requirements, so that's what we're doing," he told Network Computing. "At the end of the day, we hope to find some protocol extensions that make it an even better and more compelling solution for different wireless areas."

The group is focused on three areas: wireless backhaul, mobile packet core, and enterprise unified wireless and fixed networks.

Manning co-wrote an ONF paper that outlines benefits SDN offers wireless and mobile networks and includes mobile network use cases.

"In general, SDN can very dynamically adapt the flows and routing and all the data transfer that happens," he said in an interview.

For example, in the cellular area, OpenFlow can be used to make dynamic and seamless changes depending on usage in order to improve performance and also to introduce new services, he said.

[Read why Tom Hollingsworth thinks the term software-defined networking has run its course in "Is It Time For SDN 2.0?"]

However, applying OpenFlow-based technologies to mobile and wireless networks presents challenges. In the enterprise space, for example, there are already existing protocols for managing wireless access points, Manning noted.

"The challenge is how do we unify them using OpenFlow in a way that leverages the strengths of existing solutions, but improves them?" he said. "There's no shortage of challenges."

SDN is very much on the minds of wireless admins and architects, Lee Badman, a network engineer and wireless technical lead for a large private university, said in an email interview.

"As today’s networks get more 'unified' and 'borderless,' you can’t simply talk about the likes of OpenFlow in the datacenter. I’ve read white papers that allude to SDN being suitable in all corners of the enterprise network, but when the discussion gets to the topic of the WLAN, voices seem to trail off in uncertainty," said Badman, who is also a Network Computing blogger.

Unlike routing and switching hardware vendors, wireless vendors are highly proprietary with their technology in order to differentiate themselves, he noted.

"It will be fascinating to see how SDN penetrates the WLAN space, and if it can do it without sacrificing the range of features that each Wi-Fi vendor offers," Badman added.

Manning said the ONF wireless and mobile working group hopes to have recommendations on protocol requirements this fall. Then he hopes that members of the group will provide proof of concepts or demonstrations. "We don't want to just write a document, but to create something that people are building," he said.

Marcia Savage is the managing editor for Network Computing, and has been covering technology for 15 years. She has written and edited for CRN and spent several years covering information security for SC Magazine and TechTarget. Marcia began her journalism career in daily ... View Full Bio

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