Deutsche Telekom, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Verizon, Yahoo and 17 other companies are to work together to develop a programmable network management protocol they call Software-Defined Networking (SDN) through a new body, the Open Networking Foundation (ONF).
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SDN aims to give network owners and operators better control over their networks by allowing them to optimise network behaviour. For example, SDN would be used in datacentres to cut energy use by powering down some routers during off-peak periods.
Despite huge advances in network management, the ONF, to be led by industry veteran Dan Pitt, believes more is needed. "SDN fulfils this need by enabling innovation in all kinds of networks, including datacentres, wide area telecommunications networks, wireless networks, enterprises and in homes, through relatively simple software changes," it said.
The initiative will build on a six-year research project at Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley.
"Stronger definition of network behaviour in software is a growing trend, and open interfaces are going to lead to faster innovation," said Nick McKeown, ONF board member and Stanford University professor.
The ONF said SDN needs two basic components: a software interface, called OpenFlow, for controlling how packets are forwarded through network switches, and a set of global management interfaces (APIs) upon which to build more advanced management tools.
The ONF will first adopt and then lead the ongoing development of the OpenFlow standard and encourage its adoption by freely licensing it to all member companies. ONF will then start to define global APIs.
ONF chairman and Google's senior vice-president of engineering Urs Hoelzle said: "Over time, we expect SDN will help networks become both more secure and more reliable."
Facebook's vice-president of technical operations and founder member Jonathan Heiliger said: "We are actively encouraging new members to join us."
The initial members are Broadcom, Brocade, Ciena, Cisco, Citrix, Dell, Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, Facebook, Force10, Google, HP, IBM, Juniper Networks, Marvell, Microsoft, NEC, Netgear, NTT, Riverbed Technology, Verizon, VMware, and Yahoo.