If you're skeptical about the intentions of the OpenDaylight SDN consortium, you're not alone.

Several questions remain regarding the true objectives of this consortium, pulled together by Cisco and IBM and involving several of their partner and competitor vendors in an effort, on surface, to induce an application ecosystem for open source SDNs. Several established and startup vendors, including Cisco, IBM, HP, Juniper, Arista Networks and Big Switch Networks, are collaborating under the auspices of the Linux Foundation to develop an open source framework for SDN application development.

But there are several elephants in the room, of various sizes:

  • The conspicuous absence of the user-driven Open Networking Foundation (ONF). Not even a proactive endorsement or statement of support, let alone participation.
  • Co-founder Cisco's effort to have its Cisco ONE controller as the de facto controller for OpenDaylight
  • Guarded optimism - read: skepticism - from some members, like Big Switch, that this effort stays true to its stated goals. Indeed, Big Switch's participation is as much a watchdog over the process as it is contributor.
  • Cisco's downplay, and even dismissal, of the role of OpenFlow and the decoupling of control and data planes in SDNs. OpenFlow is the popular open source SDN API and protocol supported by many users - like Google and other founders of the ONF - and vendors, like Big Switch, HP and IBM.
  • The likelihood that Cisco's Insieme Networks programmable networking spin-in will not include Daylight in its product development.
  • And just the unlikelihood that fierce competitors can collaborate and/or agree on any strategic product development. Indeed, efforts like this in the past have ended up as nothing more than failed PR exercises and thinly veiled smokescreens for other less-than-altruistic agendas.

"We're skeptical of this effort for several reasons," says Gartner analyst Joe Skorupa. "Unlike the ONF, this effort is controlled by large vendors and has cut out the voice of the consumer. In private conversations with a number of vendors, they have expressed the same concerns. They may be members, but clearly aren't supportive."

So why should anyone view this as anything more than Cisco and IBM attempting to freeze the SDN market and potential momentum as they get their own unique products ready in the background?

Good question, according to Jason Matlof, vice president of marketing for Big Switch.

"We are very cautious and even skeptical that this body will not be politicised by some vendors' behavior," Matlof says. "We are Platinum members because we believe that the spirit of Daylight is the right thing for the industry and users, to the extent that it remains committed to standards, including OpenFlow; it delivers on the explicit expectation that the community be 'Merit-Based'; and it is open to all contributions."

Matlof and Big Switch are concerned about Cisco's recent remarks about OpenFlow, which Big Switch believes undermines the capability of OpenFlow in SDNs. The company is also concerned that Cisco will use OpenDaylight to push its own Cisco ONE controller as the de facto controller for OpenDaylight.

That concern is legitimate, according to Skorupa.

"While the effort is supposed to be governed by a 'technical meritocracy' it looks to be 'pay to play' from a governance perspective," Skorupa says, referring to the tiered membership fees for participation in OpenDaylight. "Furthermore, the selection of a foundation controller that hasn't been proven from a vendor with a mixed record on new software and that has been openly critical of OpenFlow seems suspect."

Cisco is "not ready to coronate" its Cisco ONE controller as the de facto controller for OpenDaylight - but Cisco did submit it for the project and it's in the hands of 50 customers who are writing applications for it, says Dave Ward, Cisco vice president of engineering, CTO and chief architect. So that, and that Cisco co-founded OpenDaylight with IBM, might make Cisco ONE's chances pretty good.

"There's no momentum around one controller of all the open source controllers out there" like Floodlight, Nox, Trema and others, Ward says. "There's no reference architecture."

But it's not about the controller, Ward asserts - it's about the applications.

Without OpenDaylight "there's a chance in three to five years we're all chasing a controller," Ward says. "But all revenue comes with the applications on top. All the action is in the applications on top of a common controller."

That may be why Big Switch is so cautious about OpenDaylight: It may disrupt its business plan. Big Switch charges about $1,700 per month for its Big Switch Controller and $4,200 per month for its Big Virtual Switch.

"Most of the vendors are saying, 'Let's get together to create an OpenFlow controller,'" says Peter Christy, Networks research director at 451 Research. "Vendors don't plan to differentiate on it. They agree that they don't want to compete at some lower layer. They're doing an OpenFlow controller like they collaborate on OpenStack."

Christy says this effort could either undercut or accelerate Big Switch's business plan, but Big Switch says that's not what worries it.

"What we are contributing is overwhelmingly already free through Project Floodlight, and our business model is already largely open source," a Big Switch spokesperson states in an email to Network World. We derive our revenue from subscription and services around the Open SDN Suite. The [business] model is analogous to Red Hat's enterprise edition.

"We are concerned that Cisco will politicise the selection process ... and that they will begin deprecating the code to move it more toward the proprietary model that serves them and no one else, most especially customers."