• ONF is handing off all its projects to the Linux Foundation and shutting down

  • Work on the ONF-turned-LF projects will continue as usual though they will have a new governance structure

  • We took a look at the interesting journey ONF has taken over the past 12 years

After 12 years of work, the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) is no more. At the end of last week, the group announced it is transferring its portfolio of projects – which include work on broadband networks, 5G mobile networking and the P4 architecture for cloud networking – to the Linux Foundation (LF). The surprise move raised two key questions: what the heck happened to ONF? And what happens now?

Let’s tackle the latter first.

The ONF down-low

ONF’s projects will continue under the Linux Foundation umbrella, which means they will be subject to a new governance structure. New Governance Boards have already been formed to steer the projects going forward. Linux Foundation is forming four new projects to host ONF’s work: LF Broadband, Aether, P4 and Open Network Modeling and Interfaces. The first three will be funded and the last will not. All four projects are expected to launch January 31, 2024.

ONF is handing over $5 million in funding to keep the three funded projects going. That money will go toward staffing for select engineering functions to help maintain a whisper of ONF’s engineering-led approach. There will be no change to ONF’s Apache-based licensing framework.

ONF GM Timon Sloane told Silverlinings a $2 million government grant that was just awarded to ONF’s mobile project will transfer to LF and will fund engineers working on the Aether and SD-RAN projects for the next two years.

Current ONF members have been invited to join the new Linux Foundation projects and will receive “pro rata credits” for their remaining ONF membership term. ONF itself will be dissolved and all employees will transfer to the Linux Foundation.

All roads lead to....Linux Foundation?

While it might seem like the Linux Foundation is just sucking up open source projects left and right (with ONF the latest target), Arpit Joshipura, GM and SVP of Networking, Edge, IoT and Energy at Linux Foundation told Silverlinings it's simply a case of responding to the needs of the open source community.

"What we try to do is work with our members and work with our community and ecosystem to make sure that the right technology is hosted in the right places," he said. In this case, it was the most effective to do things this way because there was "quite complementary technology, with a lot of end users that are common" who actually want a simple way of interfacing with the community.

Joshipura said technical work on the ONF-turned-LF projects will continue, with each meeting and developing APIs and software as if nothing has changed thanks to the LF's practice of keeping its funding and governance operations separate from engineering work.

But change has occurred.

AvidThink Founder Roy Chua told Silverlinings ONF’s shutdown marks “the end of an era.”

However, he noted the handover could end up being a good thing for the projects in question. He noted the Linux Foundation community and ecosystem is much larger than ONF’s.

“From the perspective of the open-source community, this is likely a neutral to positive move because developers are familiar with the Linux Foundation and their general practices, including governance,” he said.

Chua added there may also be synergies between existing Linux Foundation projects and those migrating in from ONF.

An ONF history lesson

Like the projects under its control, ONF has evolved over the years. Formed in 2011, the group was initially created by Deutsche Telekom, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Verizon and Yahoo! (If you remember Yahoo!, don’t forget to take your aspirin, folks) to accelerate development of and promote software defined networking (SDN). This iteration of the company, which Chua dubbed Version 1.0, was led by IBM alum Dan Pitt.

Pitt declined to comment on ONF's shutdown and the migration of its project portfolio to Linux Foundation.

Toward the end of 2016, Pitt stepped down and Guru Parulkar took over when ON.Lab merged with ONF that October. This kicked off what Chua called Version 2.0 of ONF, a period during which it “was fashioned as an open source organization but with a curated model that allowed sponsors unique access to the code.”

Under Parulkar’s guidance, ONF tackled Aether, a project focused on private wireless 5G networks, and in 2021 formed the private company Ananki to commercialize ONF’s projects. Intel scooped up Ananki less than a year later, taking Parulkar with the company.

Sloane was appointed to lead ONF as its General Manager in April 2022 following the Intel/Ananki deal and ONF released its projects into open source, marking the start of the third and final era of ONF. Chua said Sloane recruited new staff and engineers to continue ONF’s mission and sought out new government grants to supplement member funding.

Asked what prompted the handoff to Linux Foundation, Sloane told Silverlinings “ONF was only structured to allow for one bundled membership — companies could join ONF, but they couldn't choose to join just a single project."

He explained, "ONF determined that the time was right to create separate memberships for the projects in order to give the stakeholders more specific say in the project they care about, and the ONF board decided that making this structural change in collaboration with LF would bring the best of our two worlds together.”

“This represents the next phase in ONF's journey, the projects are now big enough and diverse enough that they each deserve to have their own autonomy,” he concluded.

Asked whether Joshipura thinks the Linux Foundation will be the last open source organization standing, he said "We don’t see it that way. The market is very big."

There are just more projects under its oversight because more and more major industries are adopting open source principles and see the global reach and influence the Linux Foundation can provide, he added.