Ron Milford: Man on a mission

InCNTRE director Ron Milford attended the recent Internet2 Global Summit in Denver with one purpose in mind. He didn’t go to schmooze, play golf, or even to catch a view of the majestic Rocky Mountains. In keeping with the summit’s “Welcome to the New Era!” theme, Milford was on hand to usher in the age of Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and OpenFlow.

Milford is vice-chair of the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) Testing and Interoperability Working Group, whose mission is to spread the good word about OpenFlow. He also leads the first OpenFlow conformance and interoperability lab, and as such has an unparalleled vantage point from which to assess the state of the nascent SDN movement.

At the Global Summit, Milford spoke to the SDN working group about the need for greater conformance testing. Too many vendors give lip service to OpenFlow conformance, and lead many customers to accept interoperability claims. “There’s a strong disconnect between what many vendors claim and what they really support,” Milford notes.

In reality, few vendors conform to the OpenFlow standard, Milford said, and this can be a big issue for unsuspecting customers. Not knowing which portion of the OpenFlow specification will truly work with a device can be a time consuming and costly problem to address. 

“Customers need to be aware that, without conformance testing, they really have no idea what they’re getting. There are no guarantees of interoperability and no idea of what is required or what optional features are supported,” Milford said.

Flexibility is one of the strengths of OpenFlow specification – yet without conformance testing, this flexibility becomes a double-edged sword. 

“Since the OpenFlow specification has so many optional features, it makes conformance testing and really understanding what your devices do and do not support all that much more important,” Milford adds.

So how can this danger be avoided?  “Community awareness is the answer,” concludes Milford. The Research and Education community and potential customers should insist that devices are tested and certified. “Until the community insists on OpenFlow conformance there’s not going to be a whole lot of incentive for the vendors to go through that process because it’s going to cost them money to do so.”