Given All Of The Above, Can We Implement SDN Networks Without NETCONF?


Whether you want OpenFlow for SDN undoubtedly depends on the way you define SDN. The networking components were defined by their software the moment they became smarter than wires connecting specific hosts (around the time IBM released 3705 in the seventies if not earlier), so you absolutely don't need OpenFlow to implement networking defined by software.

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But, boring joking aside, the definition of SDN as promoted by the Open Networking Foundation requires the separation of control and data planes, and you just can't do that with NETCONF. If anything, ForCES would be the right tool for the job, but you've not heard much regarding ForCES from your preferred vendor, have you even though its development has been gradually progressing (or not, based on your perspective) for the last decade.

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NETCONF is a protocol that allows you to change networking device's configuration. OpenFlow is a protocol that allows you to modify its forwarding table. If you want to reconfigure a device, NETCONF is the way to go. If you wish to implement new functionality (what ever it is) that is not very easily configurable within the software your networking device is running, you better have the ability to modify the forwarding plane instantly.

There might be fascinating things you could do through network device configuration with NETCONF (installing route maps with policy-based routing, access lists or static MPLS in/out label mappings, for example), however setting up the similar entries via OpenFlow will be way easier, simpler and (most significantly) device- and vendor-independent. Get more in CCIE Service Provider Workbook.

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For instance, NETCONF has no standard mechanism you can use today to create and apply an ACL to an interface. You may create an ACL on a Cisco IOS/XR/NX-OS or a Junos switch or router with NETCONF, but the actual contents of the NETCONF message would be vendor-specific. To support devices created by multiple vendors, you'd have to implement vendor-specific performance in your NETCONF controller. On the other hand, you could set up the same forwarding entries (with the DROP action) via OpenFlow into any OpenFlow-enabled switch (the "only" query being whether these entries would be executed in hardware or on the central CPU).

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NETCONF protocol changes device configuration. Whatever you configure with NETCONF appears in the device configuration and could be saved from running configuration to permanent (or startup) one if you decide to save the changes. You may not want that to occur if all you need to do is apply a temporary ACL on an interface or produce a MPLS-TP-like traffic engineering tunnel (computed externally, not signaled via RSVP). Read more on CCIE SP Workbook.

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OpenFlow-created entries in the forwarding table are by definition temporary. They don't appear in device configuration (and are probably fun to troubleshoot since they merely appear in the forwarding table) and are missing on device reload or link loss.

Provided all of the above, can we implement SDN networks without NETCONF? Obviously we could assuming we go down the OpenFlow-only route, but not many users or vendors thinking about OpenFlow are willing to do that (Google being one of the exceptions); most of them would like to retain the field-proven smarts of their networking units and augment them with extra functionality configured via OpenFlow. In a real-life network, we will hence need both NETCONF to configure the present software functioning in networking devices (hopefully through standardized messages in the not-too-distant future), and possibly OpenFlow to add new functionality where needed.

Given All Of The Above, Can We Implement SDN Networks Without NETCONF?
Whether you want OpenFlow for SDN undoubtedly depends on the way you define SDN. The networking components were defined by their software the moment they became smarter than wires connecting specific hosts

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