Big Switch turns bearish on OpenDaylight Project as SDN standards advance

Software-defined networking

Just as some people had foreseen, the participants in the OpenDaylight Project for standardizing software-defined networking (SDN) are having trouble getting along.

Big Switch Networks, an SDN player that jumped in deep with the vendor-led consortium as a top-of-the-line platinum member, implying financial and developer contributions to the project, is giving up its board seat and downgrading to a silver member, Network World reported Wednesday.

Jason Matlof, the company’s vice president of marketing, was quoted as saying that OpenDaylight is “not in the best interest of the industry or as a technical place to start.”

The news followed an OpenDaylight announcement that five more companies had gotten aboard, including Cyan, Huawei and Radware.

Big Switch CEO Guido Appenzeller explained the company’s reasoning in a Wednesday blog post, noting that, while the OpenDaylight Project had initially looked at merging code from Cisco and Big Switch’s open-source Floodlight controller to form “a clean, new repository,” the leaders of the consortium ultimately chose “to start the project with the Cisco controller as the base repository.” (David Meyer, chairman of OpenDaylight’s Technical Steering Committee and a Brocade executive, describes the proposal differently, saying it incorporates “robust features” from Big Switch in addition to Cisco code.)

The Big Switch code is more time-tested than the Cisco code, Appenzeller argued, and anyway it will be hard for Big Switch to run some of its applications atop the controller code going forward. A source told us that Big Switch had joined OpenDaylight with the hope of staving off the adoption of Cisco’s controller code, and now it appears Big Switch was outgunned.

In addition to complicating Big Switch’s efforts to push proprietary applications, Appenzeller wrote that OpenDaylight might not be doing enough to give customers with what they want:

The second, and more important reason is that our energy is better spent concentrating on the needs of the user community – not playing politics with the incumbent vendor community. Specifically, the market is clamoring for a transition toward “bare metal switches,” or “white box switches,” which provide customers an ability to rack-n-stack switches and centrally provision them just like they do with data center rack servers today.

It’s hard to say how much the OpenDaylight controller code will end up keeping Cisco customers buying from Cisco instead of more open switches, but it’s a legitimate concern as companies wonder if they might be able to implement SDN and do more with simpler — and less expensive — switches. (We’ll be talking about what use cases are possible with SDN at GigaOM’s Structure conference in San Francisco in two weeks.)

It would be nice to see some customer representation on OpenDaylight Project, Appenzeller noted. That could bring some assurance that the resulting standards will help not just vendors but many kinds of companies interested in reaping the benefits of separating the control plane from the data plane.

In the meantime, still more drama could unfold in the OpenDaylight Project, as official code is expected to ship in the third quarter of the year.

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