From Open Research to Open Flow

May 2, 2012

Posted by Jeff Walz, University Relations Team

Did you know Open Flow has its roots in academia? Back in May 2006 Vint Cerf was visiting Stanford to deliver an invited lecture. Following the talk he met with Stanford Professor Nick McKeown and learned about the Clean Slate Internet project. Nick was looking for support and Google’s involvement in what he described as a lab for “radical new ideas in networking”. Vint felt the program looked “intellectually healthy but might be a very long term matter to bear fruit”. Vint explained that for us to get involved we would want to have Google engineers excited and engaged.

Professor McKeown met with Google networking and infrastructure experts to present his ideas. Everybody knew that Software-Defined Networking (SDN) had great promise but the Open Flow effort seemed a bit ambitious for a professor and a couple of grad students. Googlers Dave Presotto and Stephen Stuart agreed to take a chance on it and sponsor a small research grant to fund another student and to get Google engaged. As Google and the industry got more involved, Open Flow began to gain traction. In June 2008 Google provided another grant to support more students and in late 2009 Google joined the initiatives consortium with other industry members.

Google engineers Stephen Stuart and Jim Wanderer worked closely with Stanford and lead Google’s Open Flow development and deployment. In 2011 the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) was formed to accelerate Software-Defined Networking standards and foster a robust market and ecosystem. Google’s own Urs Hölzle became ONF’s first President and Chairman of the Board.

Google involvement and support of this academic effort was a key factor to the speedy development and deployment of Open Flow and SDN - technology that made it from a university research project to running Google’s WAN in record time.