In this episode of The Broadband Bunch, recorded at the Broadband World Forum 2019, we speak with Aseem Parikh, Open Networking Foundation, Vice President, Solutions and Partnerships. The Open Networking Foundation (ONF) is a non-profit operator led consortium driving transformation of network infrastructure and carrier business models. Aseem talks about the state of software defined networking, explains how to operationalize standards and offers his view of the industry today
Pete Pizzutillo: There are a few perspectives on openness, standards and software defined networks (SDN). ONF is positioned as operator lead; can clarify that for us?
Aseem Parikh: What operator lead means - the primary places where technology gets deployed. Which then customers or their consumers, their customers or consumers get to use, whether they are individuals or enterprises or government agencies. All of us, obviously, over the time have used more and more of Telecom services. By being operator led, there are pluses and minuses frankly. Pluses are, they know exactly what their customer base wants and what the pain points are. A simple exampe, which is evident for anyone in this industry is the traffic growth and the endpoint growth from IOT or mobile cases has exponentially grown over the last 10 years. You can look at every vendor's or every Telco's chart to show that. But which is also obvious is that revenues have plateaued or decreased. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that when your OpEx and CapEx, which are proportional to the growth of your data, are also going kind of symmetrically in that exponential manner and revenues are not increasing something has to give. John Donna went off AT&T about three years ago when he just announced the domain 2.0 project, which AT&T was on about, said that if we don't do it in 10 years, we will be extinct. 10 or 20 years, whatever time frame he said, I don't remember. But that is exactly the problem we are trying to solve.
That's why having an operator led mission is important. The Cisco, Nokia, Ericssons have done business very successfully for the last 20, 30, 50 years. And there is no reason for them to want to give up those large margins, their way of business, putting everything in hardware, may get close proprietary. And every time you have a new protocol, they add stuff to it without taking it away. What operators have told us, and this is again when they sit on our board, a typical operator uses less than 30% of a device's capabilities, but they pay for all hundred percent. Because there is no way of picking and choosing what you want. If you're an MPLS user, you use MPLS but everything else in this box is capable of doing anything else, right? Whether it's layer one, layer two, layer three, layer seven, but you pay for it.
The disaggregation of monolithic architecture is what came to be and that is the key. In Malcolm Goldsmith’s book, What Got You Here is Not Going to Get You There, the the subtitle of that was what made you successful is not going to make you more successful. Those mechanics now are not going to work. For this industry, what has got us here, the monolithic way of building hardware, it's served very well for the industry for the last 30 years, but for the next 30 years, our claim is and our thesis is that that is not going to scale.
Aseem Parikh: My first startup was acquired by Novell, which is where NetWare, the LAN networking opting system came out of. And that got me into the networking space. I was charted to make Novell speak into TCP/IP was the architect of NetWare. I sat on multiple panels at NASA, and other places, which got me more thinking about the real impact of networking.
Then the software entrepreneurship bug struck me. I decided to look at the broader side of technology; not only the technology as an implementation, but the impact, and how I can move the needle. We started a company, which was acquired by Cisco which basically created the Cisco Transport Manager, which is a large network management platform for all their optical gear. This was when Cisco was buying optical companies every other month. I was on eight due diligence's, and we paid out of over $10 billion in the market to acquire companies like Sarandon, Monterey and Keaton, and Pirelli in Italy, and a bunch of these companies. Every time we acquired a company, there would be a plethora of hardware equipment which my platform had manage. By the time you finish integrating the software for managing one device, the device software would change, and then you would start all over again. Soon after that, I said "Okay, maybe there's a better way of building systems."
My next startup was in silicon company and I didn’t know anything about silicon. But the founder of the company said "I have enough silicon people. I need to understand what the application of the silicon is going to be." I became a product manager and then the general manager of that business unit. And we built some interesting silicon to bridge optical and IP domains together.
Then I did another startup in the big data space and looked at Telco data, operational, as well as for the business purposes of ensuring that we can enable a lot more agility in decision-making, even in the Telco. The Telco industry, as all of us know, has pretty long-term view. Things are difficult to change. They have been doing things one way for hundreds of years, or tens of years in many cases. And in that scenario, it became clear that any help they can get with making decisions faster would be useful. We pitched this to Sprint, Verizon, AT&T. That was acquired by another company out of France called Thales.
And that made take a pause and say, "Okay, I've been doing the startup thing and been on that treadmill for a while." I wanted to look at things more holistically. And I had met Guru Parulkar, the executive director of ONF today when we are both at Cisco back in the late '90's, early 2000's. He had been acquired, and I had been acquired, so we worked together. And then I had followed Guru's trajectory, and he went to Stanford, that's where SDN started as a clean slate project. And we said this is an interesting way of looking at the world. If you bring software, you bring agility anywhere you bring software. It's easier to spend software than spend silicon or a hardware device. That was the genesis of kind of my looking at that world. And, at the same time, everyone has seen what Linux had done to open source from the operating system perspective and from the computer perspective. We wanted to marry those two.
And there were these three organizations, which came out of Stanford's The Clean Slate Program. Two of them, one was ONF, the old ONF, which was a standards organization. And that's where standards like OpenFlow were created. And the goal was just to evangelize SDN as an alternative way of doing a technology, networking. Networking in all cases, Enterprise as well as Telco. And then the second group which was created was called Open Networking Lab. Open Networking Lab was the one that just focused on software and creating open source software and primarily focused on the Telco, very robust high scale, high availability environment, which a Telco requires. It's a very different environment than an Enterprise Software. Over four, five, six years, these organizations co-existed. One did evangelism and standards, one did open source and then the board, which is all led by operators felt that really our charter of evangelizing SDN is now already over. Anyone doing networking today uses SDN - whether they really do SDN or not is debatable, but at least the theorists in Stanford and Berkeley and Princeton don't think most of these products are real SDN and that's a different discussion. So the new ONF, which was created about two years ago is mostly focused on the open source part of their business. We a team of 30 people which create architectures, reference designs and exemplar platforms. And to make sure that they are not influenced by any vendor. That's our key differentiation from other open source bodies, which are typically dominated by vendors. And that's where obviously the skillsets are, the engineering talent is, but at the end of the day, each of those people who are working on those bodies are employed by someone else as a day job and there are biases and there are influences, and all of that. We wanted an unbiased way of trying to get the right technology, the technology because which is right to do, not because it's convenient to do for a particular X, Y or Z.