VMware earlier this week announced its sponsorship of the Open Networking Research Center, a new organization dedicated to furthering development of software defined networking (SDN) technology.
SDN decouples the network control plane from the physical hardware, and it simplifies management by handling packet routing and other administrative tasks on a separate layer. Virtualizing this layer is seen as one of the final pieces of the puzzle needed to enable cloud computing to gain broad traction.
VMware dominates the server virtualization space, but given the Palo Alto, Calif.-based vendor's ongoing effort to diversify its business, partners are not surprised by its sponsorship of the ONRC. If anything, they're surprised it took VMware this long to get in on the action in the network virtualization space.
"VMware is not going to sit back and watch networking equipment become virtualized and not be a player," said Robert Germain, vice president of engineering at Hub Technical Services, a South Easton, Mass.-based solution provider. "Networking is going to be more about software than hardware, and VMware wants to be part of creating the protocol for that."
ONRC can be seen as network infrastructure players' response to Openflow, the open source SDN protocol that is being standardized by the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), a group formed in 2011 by Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Deutsche Telekom, Verizon, and Yahoo.
"The threat of having the existing networking companies collaborate on a standard without VMware's influence could potentially leave them as a side note to the network virtualization market in the coming years," said Paul Kunze, director at IntraSystems, a Braintree, Mass.-based solution provider.
Brad Maltz, chief technical officer at ICI, a Marlborough, Mass.-based solution provider, believes VMware's involvement with ONRC will help counteract the perception that it is a "closed solution" vendor.
"With traditional switch vendors, Openflow is integrated for the ability of the industry to develop new and experimental protocols," he said. "VMware is now proving that they are developing standards and technologies that will allow other technologies and solutions to integrate into the common open standards stack."
ONRC consists of two networking research groups, one each at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley. It also includes the Open Networking Laboratory, an independent nonprofit entity that is tasked with developing open source.
VMware is joining 11 other networking vendors in sponsoring ONRC, including Google, HP, Huawei, Juniper and Intel.