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8 Open Networking Terms To Know

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    When you talk to people about the concept of "open networking," you're likely to get blank stares. Are you referring to network virtualization, software-defined networking (SDN), OpenFlow, or something completely different? Open networking is a very generic term that covers a great deal of territory.

    For the most part, open networking has to do with SDN and virtualization technologies that are open source in nature. There are a few different organizations that revolve around open networking and help to build a forum where anyone interested in SDN can take part in the creation of open source protocols that facilitate the SDN architecture.

    One organization -- the Open Networking Foundation -- took the approach of developing a new SDN protocol from the ground up. Compatible network switches could run this open source software on bare-metal hardware as opposed to proprietary software, which is often the case in traditional network environments today.

    Another open networking group -- the European Telcommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) -- aimed to create open networking software that ran on top of proprietary hardware/software. That way, the entire network could be configured with an overlay network and hardware did not have to be replaced.

    On the following pages, we'll discuss these organizations and point out common open networking terms that are frequently used in these types of discussions. Our goal is to get you familiar with the terminology to the point where you can carry on a conversation about open networking in general without getting confused by the topic.

    And once you've read through the slides, let us know whether this helped to clarify the scope of open networking. Hopefully, together, we'll be able to sort out what does and does not fall under the category of open networking.

    (Image: Geralt/Pixabay)

  • Open Networking Foundation (ONF)

    The Open Networking Foundation (ONF) is a collaborative group that was formed to promote the adoption of software-defined networking. ONF members include IT infrastructure powerhouses such as Cisco Systems, Google, Microsoft, Oracle, and VMware.

    (Image: Open Networking Foundation)

  • OpenFlow

    The Open Networking Foundation's first achievement was the development of the OpenFlow standard. OpenFlow is an open source network protocol designed around SDN principles. The protocol can be used either as a proof of concept or as a production-ready SDN protocol. OpenFlow is supported on a number of networking switches today, and the list of compatible equipment is growing every day.

    (Image: OpenFlow)

  • Control And Data Planes

    You hear a lot about control and data planes in the context of OpenFlow and SDN to describe network functions. The control plane part of SDN is responsible for determining the optimal path on which data should flow. The primary difference between SDN and traditional network architectures is that the control plane of SDN is centralized and can determine optimal routing from end-to-end. Traditional networks route on a hop-by-hop basis. The data plane part of SDN is solely responsible for carrying network user data across the network -- once the control plane determines the best path to the destination.

    (Image: NASA / Carla Thomas)

  • Management Plane

    The management plane is network administrative information that has nothing to do with routing or data transmissions. It primarily deals with network orchestration and administration duties such as HTTPS, SSH, and SNMP. And because of this, the management plane is transmitted out-of-band compared to other network traffic.

    (Image: Geralt / Pixabay)

  • SDN Application

    An SDN application is a piece of software that is compatible with an SDN network. The application must have the ability to announce what capabilities it needs -- in terms of network resources -- to run optimally.

    (Image: OpenClipartVectors / Pixabay)

  • Northbound Interface

    A northbound interface is an API that is used to communicate information between the SDN controller and the SDN-compatible applications running on the network. Northbound APIs essentially take the network requirements from the SDN applications and negotiate needs with the network controller that is responsible for providing applications with optimal network resources and paths.

    (Image: OpenClipartVectors / Pixabay)

  • Southbound Interface

    As soon as the northbound interface informs the controller of what capabilities an SDN application needs, the controller must then inform the SDN switch hardware how to treat the data flow. OpenFlow is used as a southbound interface to communicate this information between the controller and the SDN-compatible switch hardware.

    (Image: Sean Baker)

  • Network Functions Virtualization (NFV)

    Network Functions Virtualization is an initiative spearheaded by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). The ultimate goal of NFV is to decouple networking functions that are currently performed by proprietary network appliances and allow for similar, non-proprietary capabilities to be hosted on virtual machines.

    (Image: PublicDomainPictures / Pixabay)