Open networking describes a network that uses open standards and commodity hardware. In other words, open networking is the ability a computer system has to be open in terms of component compatibility -- in both hardware and software -- expandability and extendibility. It is also an umbrella term used to encompass a general meaning of the use of open standards.
Network engineers or administrators can benefit from having a well-implemented open networking system because they can have an extra level of choice when it comes to what hardware and software make up their network, as well as not have to worry about relying on a single vendor. Two of the main benefits that come from open networking are the potential to save money compared to proprietary vendor products and the extra level of configurability. With open networking, an organization can add applications or tools directly onto its existing hardware. For example, organizations can find open source options for routers, switches, firewalls or load balancers to help create and maintain an open network.
Open networking is similar to the concept of open standards, which focuses on creating standards for interoperability and data exchange around general and public consensus-driven processes.
An open network is opposed to the idea of a closed network, which is one that limits networks by a set of providers.
Ways to define open networking
There is not one solidified definition for open networking, however. Depending on the individual, the extent of the term may differ. Open networking may mean something broad, like the level of interoperability and having the ability to substitute one network component for another. Others may define open networking more narrowly, such as having a focus on software defined-networking (SDN) with tools like OpenFlow.
Open networking could also be defined as the pairing of open source network operating systems (OSes) with publicly available hardware in a virtual machine (VM). A vendor might define open networking as conforming to existing networking standards or using a set of publicly sourced application program interfaces (APIs) that work with other tools. Vendors may also define open networking to only the level of openness of their own network and not other standards around them. The term can also be related to white box networking.
Open network characteristics
Typically, an open networked product will share these characteristics:
- use of open APIs;
- sharing of open industry standards relating to hardware and software;
- use of anything open source, such as network devices and compute hardware;
- use of an open ecosystem with the ability to cooperate with many other types of different tools and hardware; and
- use of cloud computing.
The role of SDN in open networking
SDN is also a common aspect of open networks. SDN is an architecture that aims to make networks agile and flexible with the goal of improving network control. The use of SDN will enable network engineers and administrators to view traffic from a centralized control console. The SDN architecture is composed of the application layer, the control layer and the infrastructure layer. SDN enables enterprises and service providers to respond quickly and adapt to changing business requirements.
Open networking takes advantage of SDN principles, while adding the use of open source platforms and defined standards in the production of networks. SDN networks will also typically use open APIs. By implementing a control layer, operators can manage all of a network and its devices -- even if the underlying network is complex.
SDN works well with open networking because it enables multivendor interoperability and supports a multivendor approach to networking. Open APIs will support many applications, while publicly available software can be used to manage hardware from different vendors that use more open program-based products.
Open Networking Foundation
The Open Networking Foundation (ONF) is a nonprofit organization centered around promoting an open and collaborative community around the idea of open networking. ONF develops software-defined standards for open networking. Classifications of these standards include the following:
- technical specifications, which include framework documents, protocol definitions, information models and component functionalities;
- technical recommendations, which define APIs and protocols, as well as data information models; and
- informal, which includes case studies, use cases, white papers and testing reports.
ONF will also work on projects related to broadband, mobile, edge cloud and SDN for creating open source tools and standards.
Examples of open networking
Because the use of the term is broad, so is the application of open networking. An organization could use an open source controller OS so it can manage lower-cost hardware across a computer network, for example.
Comcast worked with ONF to deploy an open source software called Trellis. Trellis is an architecture pattern used to develop for SDN/network functions virtualization (NFV)-based fabrics for services. Trellis can also work with the OpenFlow protocol as a southbound API.
OpenFlow is a protocol that enables a server to tell network switches where to send packets. ONF defines OpenFlow as a standard communication interface that sits between the control and forwarding layers of an SDN-based architecture. In conventional networks, each switch has proprietary software that tells it what to do. Comparatively, the packet-moving decisions in OpenFlow are centralized, meaning the network can be programmed independently of the individual switches and data center gear.