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ONF puts focus on white box switches with Stratum project

The Open Networking Foundation formed Stratum, an open source networking project intended to create more interoperability among white box switches and network operating systems.

The Open Networking Foundation announced this week the formation of Stratum, an open source project that could redefine current protocols governing software-defined networking interfaces and interoperability among white box switches.

The new open source project indicates a change in direction for open source networking -- albeit one that will take a few years, according to Lee Doyle, principal analyst at Doyle Research.

"It's a complete overhaul," Doyle said. "This is the next generation of SDN. OpenFlow is out. It works and it's delivered certain things, but it has advantages and disadvantages."

While OpenFlow targeted forwarding behavior, Stratum addresses forwarding behavior, as well as data plane configuration and operation to offer more programmability. To do this, Stratum more clearly defines the languages and interfaces used for control and management with the white box switches, according to ONF.

P4 language will support additional programmability

The SDN interfaces are specifically geared toward pipeline definition, pipeline control, device configuration and device operations. By using the P4 language, for example, developers can program Stratum-based devices to define their supporting forwarding behaviors.

"You add in P4 and some new processors, which are a lot more programmable," Doyle said. "It's more powerful, more programmable, more automated, better intent, less CLI."

ONF intends to make Stratum available on a broad selection of networking silicon and white box switches.

ONF intends to make Stratum available on a broad selection of networking silicon and white box switches. Stratum will also work with existing deployed systems, as well as future versions of programmable silicon.

Stratum uses recently released SDN interfaces and doesn't embed control protocols. Instead, it's designed to support external network operating systems or embedded switch protocols, like Border Gateway Protocol. In this way, ONF said the Stratum project will be more versatile and available for a broader set of use cases.

Founding members of the Stratum project include Big Switch Networks, VMware, Barefoot Networks, Broadcom and Google -- which donated production code to initiate the project for open white box switches.

"Google has contributed the latest and greatest, and just because it's Google [its participation in the project] makes it reasonably significant," Doyle said.

Other open source projects, like Central Office Re-architected as a Datacenter and Open Network Operating System, are also participating.

Stratum's success will depend, in part, on how quickly it gets commercialized, Doyle said.

"We'll see how it gets commercialized, because very few people are going to do it yourself," he said. "There's still not a lot of open source networking. There's open source protocol being used in networking, but that's different."

Since the project is still in its incubation phase, Stratum code is currently available only for participating members. Companies can join as long as they dedicate an engineer to the project. Stratum code is expected to be officially released in early 2019, ONF said.

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