Chances are you’re familiar with Linux, but for tech novices, it’s a collection of open-source software built upon the Linux kernel (the core of a computer operating system). Linux was first released in 1991 at about the same time I joined a small computer company in Austin, Texas that had a crazy notion to sell personal computers over the phone. Nine years later, the Linux Foundation was formed, from the merger of the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) and Free Standards Group (FSG). It was the turn of the 21st century—remember the hype around the Y2K bug? Did you party like it was 1999, with the artist formerly known as Prince? Flash forward eighteen years and the Linux Foundation is now the largest open source non-profit organization in the world. It boasts some pretty significant statistics: an estimated $16B in development efforts spread over 100 projects, and one million open source professionals trained to date.
As it relates to networking, the Linux Foundation is currently focused on a number of projects that are bringing top networking vendors, operators, service providers, and users together. Among the top initiatives are the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) and Data Plane Development Kit (DPDK). In this article, I would like to dive into both of these initiatives and share my perspective on how each is transforming the nature of networking.
ONAP’s global reach
It makes sense that ONAP’s releases are named after global cities, considering the platform’s growing global footprint. ONAP is aimed at bringing real-time automation and orchestration to both physical and virtualized network functions. The first release in the fall of 2017, named Amsterdam, delivered a unified architecture for providing closed-loop networking automation. The underlying framework ensured a level of modularity to facilitate future functionality as well as standards harmonization and critical upstream partner collaboration. Initial use cases centered on Voice Over LTE (VoLTE) services as well as Virtualized Consumer Premise Equipment (vCPE). Both are extremely cost disruptive from a deployment and management perspective and deliver enhanced service provider agility. What I find extremely compelling is that Amsterdam was only an eight-month development cycle from start to release. That’s an amazing feat even in the fast-paced technology industry.
Released this past June, Beijing is the second ONAP iteration. Beijing builds upon Amsterdam by maturing the underlying network architecture with improved deployment flexibility and new automation functions. The benefits are numerous—enhanced security, scalability, performance, and support for more use cases. Microservices enhancements are a critical update from an architecture perspective that brings with it broader scalability. I recently published an article on the benefits of microservices for networking, which you can read here if interested. Of course, the proof is in deployment—tier one global carriers such as AT&T, Verizon, China Mobile , and Orange are integrating the platform into both proof of concepts and real-world network build-outs. The third release, Casablanca, is slated for the end of the year. From my perspective the biggest enhancement will be support for network slicing. This is a critical feature for operators deploying 5G wireless networks as it will facilitate dedicated service levels based on application need for throughput, lower latency, or both. The key to monetization in the 5G world will be guaranteeing a level of quality of service.
DPDK feels the need for speed
DPDK was an effort initially led by Intel at its inception nearly eight years ago, but became a part of the Linux Foundation back in 2017. At a high level, the technology accelerates packet processing workloads running on a variety of CPU architectures. DPDK is aimed at improving overall network performance, delivering enhanced encryption for improved security and optimizing lower latency applications that require lightning-fast response time. The transformative power of 5G networks lies in their potential to deliver low latency for applications such as augmented/virtual reality and self-driving cars—DPDK will further extend that performance for next-generation wireless wide area networks. I’ve written about the transformative potential of 5G in the past—if you’re interested you can find one of those articles here.
I had the opportunity recently to speak to project chair Jim St. Leger after the fifth DPDK release, and I was impressed with the depth and breadth of the open source project. Over 25 companies and 160 technologists are involved in advancing the effort. With the proliferation of data, cord cutting at home, and growing consumption of video over wired and wireless networks, high-quality compression techniques will dramatically improve performance and reliability. DPDK appears to be poised to contribute significantly to that effort.
The Linux Foundation is changing the very fabric of networking (did you catch the pun in the article’s title?), through a rich ecosystem of collaboration that stretches beyond these two projects. The results are improved networking performance, agility, multi-vendor interoperability, and disruptive capital/operational cost containment. It’s no surprise that the membership continues to grow. Not only are the largest networking vendors and mobile operators members, but they are also deeply involved in advancing many strategic projects.
In the month of September, I will have the opportunity to attend both the Open Networking Summit in Amsterdam and the DPDK Userspace in Dublin to witness first-hand the power of both initiatives. Stay tuned for further insights and observations following the conclusion of both events. One thing is certain—the Linux Foundation is contributing to the transformation of networking.