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ONF Debuts Open Source SDN Software

The Open Networking Foundation this week launched what it calls the first "top-to-bottom, soup-to-nuts open source implementation" for software-defined networking.

Named Atrium, the open SDN software distribution is designed to make it easier for network operators to adopt SDN by integrating standalone open source SDN components with "some critical connecting pieces," the ONF said. The distribution will be available at the end of the month on ONF's GitHub repository.

The first release of Atrium incorporates the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), the Open Network Operating System (ONOS) for services providers, and Open Compute Project components. The software pieces run in either controllers or switches and use OpenFlow to communicate. ONF manages the OpenFlow SDN standard.

Yatish Kumar, project lead for Atrium and ONF Technical Council member, said the goal of Atrium is to speed SDN deployment. There have been a lot of SDN trials, but widespread adoption has been slow, he said in an interview.

One of the problems holding back SDN adoption is that someone who wants to put together an Open Flow network has a lot of work to do, including selecting a controller, writing an application for it, and finding compatible hardware, all while managing the existing an existing network. "It's fairly daunting," said Kumar, who also is CTO of Corsa Technology.

Atrium is designed to streamline the process by providing interoperability and freedom of choice in hardware-based OpenFlow switches, Kumar said.

Figure 1:

In a blog post, ONF Executive Director Dan Pitt explained that routing is often the most basic application network operators want for SDN and that Atrium includes Quagga BGP because it's a popular open source routing stack. Atrium includes ONOS because Quagga BGP runs on ONOS, which ONF has experience with, he said. ON.Lab, a research organization that developed ONOS with support from AT&T, NTT Communications and others, donated engineering resources to help with the integration.

ONF is working on Atrium integration with OpenDaylight, and plans an ODL release later this year. ODL, a Linux Foundation  project with support from Cisco, Brocade, HP, Dell and others, released the first open source SDN controller early last year. It released an updated version last fall.

Andrew Lerner, a research director at Gartner, described Atrium as "very interesting and cool," but not yet a mainstream enterprise solution. Initial interest in the software will be large-scale network operators, including service providers, he wrote in an email. What's perhaps more interesting is that Atrium represents an alternative emerging SDN open source ecosystem to OpenDaylight, he added.

"To this point, ODL has done a nice job of fostering a commercial ecosystem and was becoming the flag bearer for open source SDN controllers.  That said, for SDN to really add value for organizations (and gain adoption), ONF/ONOS/ODL must all play nicely in the sandbox together, i.e., cooperation is more valuable than competition. That means controller integration and app portability between their platforms. Otherwise it becomes a very fragmented set of ecosystems, which limits value long term."

ONF said 13 organizations and vendors contributed to Atrium's development, including Big Switch, Broadcom, and Pica8. More than 30 universities and vendors have pledged to contribute to future releases.

ONF plans to display Atrium at next week's Open Networking Summit in Santa Clara, Calif.

Founded in 2011 by technology firms such as Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, the nonprofit ONF counts more than 140 companies as members.