OpenFlow and a network operating system “provide a consistent view of the network and do that at once for many applications,” says McKeown. “It becomes trivial to find new paths.”
Some OpenFlow research projects require just a couple hundred lines of code to completely change the data traffic patterns in a network—with dramatic results. In one project, McKeown says, researchers reduced a data center’s energy consumption by 60 percent simply by rerouting network traffic within the center and turning off switches when they weren’t in use.
This sort of research has caught the attention of big companies, and is one reason why the ONF was formed. Google is interested in speeding up the networks that connect its data centers. These data centers generally communicate through specified paths, but if a route fails, traffic needs to be rerouted, says Urs Hoelzle, senior vice president of operations at Google. Using standard routing instructions, this process can take 20 minutes. If Google had more control over how the data flowed, it could reroute within seconds, Hoelzle says.
Cisco, a company that builds the hardware that routes much of the data on the Internet, sees ONF as a way to help customers build better Internet services. Facebook, for example, relies on Cisco hardware to serve up status updates, messages, pictures, and video to hundreds of millions of people worldwide. “You can imagine the flood of data,” says McNab.
Future ONF standards could let people program a network to get different kinds of performance when needed, says McNab. Building that sort of functionality into Cisco hardware could make it more appealing to Internet services that need to be fast.
The first goal of the ONF is to take over the specifications of OpenFlow, says McKeown. As a research project, OpenFlow has found success on more than a dozen campuses, but it needs to be modified so it can work well at various companies. The next step is to develop easy-to-use interfaces that let people program networks just as they would program a computer or smart phone. “This is a very big step for the ONF,” he says, because it could increase the adoption of standards and speed up innovation for network applications. He says the process could take two years.
In the meantime, companies including Google, Cisco, and others will test open networking protocols on their internal networks—in essence, they’ll be testing out a completely new kind of Internet.