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ONUG hosts SDN hackathon to jump-start network automation

The Open Networking User Group is hosting the first ONUG Grand Challenge Hackathon, with the goal of encouraging the development of new automation applications.

The Open Networking User Group hopes its new SDN hackathon competition will catalyze innovation breakthroughs in the area of network automation.

A virtual event, called the ONUG Grand Challenge Hackathon, sponsored by Cisco, will take place from March 18 through April 4. Nick Lippis, ONUG chairman and co-founder, said the group wants to address what he called "one of the biggest problems in the entire IT stack" -- the lack of tools for automating network configuration and change management.

"The main point is to start to demonstrate how we can start to automate networking gear as part of the larger IT ecosystem of compute and storage," Lippis said. "This topic is not very popular in the vendor community, but it is near the top -- if not the top -- in the IT community ... We want focus and attention on this topic."

Will Murrell, network engineer at UNICOM Systems Inc., based in Mission Hills, Calif., said these kinds of hackathons can provide valuable learning opportunities for networking pros interested in SDN and automation, and who already have at least some coding experience under their belts.

"If you're a junior-level coder and you join with a team of higher-level coders, it can actually raise your knowledge up, as far as operations inside the SDN space, and how the code can actually interact with the APIs," he said. "You also get a lot of good ideas from the projects that are submitted, as far as the types of things you can do with the SDN APIs."

ONUG invites anyone to participate in the Cisco-sponsored SDN hackathon, including academics, DevOps programmers, network engineers and vendor employees. The winning team will take home $2,500, and will have the opportunity to present its application at ONUG's conference in May.

Murrell said exposure like this can sometimes lead to project funding, should a particular hackathon entry catch the eye of a vendor. And because the applications will be open source, everyone benefits.

The main point is to start to demonstrate how we can automate networking gear as part of the larger IT ecosystem of compute and storage.
Nick Lippischairman and co-founder, Open Networking User Group

"You're contributing to the community at large," Murrell said. "So, not only will a vendor or your own individual group benefit from this, but everybody can benefit from it. So, if you've got a pretty awesome idea, and you just need a little incentive to implement it, then there you go. That's what the hackathon is for."

The SDN hackathon judges include four ONUG working group chairmen: Neal Secher, BNY Mellon's managing director and head of architecture; Aryo Kresnadi, chief engineer at FedEx; Ted Turner, Intuit's senior network engineer; and Carlos Matos, Fidelity's director of global network architecture.

According to ONUG, the panel will choose the winning SDN hackathon entry based on:

  • Creativity
  • Uniqueness
  • Feature set
  • Technical depth
  • Ability of application to address the ONUG IT Services Lifecycle Framework.

"We're not looking for anything huge and spectacular," Lippis said. "Even something simple will get us going and moving down this road to automating network gear."

The RSVP period for the SDN hackathon ends Friday, March 18, at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time. Registered teams of four people or fewer can collaborate virtually from April 1 until April 11, when the online forum will close. Programmers can use any platform, including OpenDaylight, Open vSwitch, Floodlight, OpenContrail, Docker orchestration tools or others. Cisco, the hackathon sponsor, is offering simulators and technical support for teams that choose to write to APIC APIs.

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