Are Frustrated Cisco End Users Now Driving The SDN Agenda?

Unbeknownst to many, there will be a very important meeting tonight that could have a significant impact on SDN’s (Software Defined Networking) future.

Tonight, the ONUG (Open Networking Users Group) board of directors, including executives from Bank Of America, CitigroupFidelity Investments, GAP Inc, JP Morgan Chase, and UBS will meet with the leaders who are defining SDN standard.  While I’m not at liberty to disclose the SDN standards groups in that meeting, I have seen the list, and it is truly the “who’s- who” of SDN standards.  The ONUG directors want to hear what the SDN standards groups are offering who will, then evaluate and compare the offerings to provide evaluated input to the entire ONUG at their annual conference on October 30.  This “read-out” will take place in a user-only session.

This really flips the historical enterprise influence model on its head.  In networking, IT has traditionally been one or two vendors cramming solutions down IT’s throats.  There have been vendor-sponsored customer groups, too, but controlled by the vendor. There have always been independent user groups, but very few with the potential influence as ONUG.  What’s driving this grassroots phenomenon in SDN?

If you follow networking, you can sense the frustration.  IT is sick and tired of being locked into expensive and proprietary network solutions, are frustrated by the slow SDN rollout, and are starting to take matter into their own hands.  In my conversation with ONUG’s Managing Director, Mari Mineta Clapp, she talked about just how sophisticated and proactive networking users are today and that they can’t afford to be passive when it comes to SDN, the biggest disruption in networking over 20 years.

Users are taking an active role in the development of networking products and influencing, sharing the use cases they want and ensuring that these will make it into RFIs and RFQs. Net-net, users are voting with their collective budgets.  This is whereONUG comes into play.  What is ONUG?

ONUG was founded in 2012 by Ernest Lefner of Bank Of America, who at the time was an IT executive at Fidelity Investments, and Nick Lippis of the Lippis Report, recognizing the need for a user driven initiative to expedite the deployment of open networking solutions. Under Ernest’s leadership, Fidelity hosted the first ONUG.

ONUG’s next meeting will be hosted by JPMC on October 29 at their NYC headquarters. IT business leaders will share user case studies and network with peers.  Based on the Board of Directors and others in the room, it looks like there will be collectively billions of dollars in IT spend.  SDN standards groups will be there, too, including ONF (Open Networking Foundation), OpenStack and Open Daylight. Networking vendors will be there, too, including biggies like Cisco SystemsHewlett-PackardIBM, Arista, Big Switch, Nuage Networks (Alcatel-Lucent) but will not be presenting. They will be listening.What a concept, I know.  Notably absent vendor players include Juniper, Brocade, and Dell.

It’s interesting, all of this grass-roots activism in SDN parallels other end user-driven phenomenon.  Look at scale-out servers and storage.  Companies like GoogleFacebook, and Amazon are dictating their needs to vendors as opposed to taking what’s available.  Kickstarter and Indiegogo are consumer instantiations of user defined product and service developments. The model has changed in tech and is much more end user-defined, even in networking.

If you are an IT executive and want to provide your feedback on what you want in SDN and hear case studies from real live SDN users, you can sign up for the ONUG conference here which takes place October 29-30 in NYC at JPMorgan Chase.