A Few Words About ONF’s Business Model, Fees, and Research Relationships
I am happy to hear of the high level of interest among engineers and researchers in participating in ONF. I can understand their enthusiasm, because it is an exciting place to contribute. But let me explain a few things about our fees and how we operate to answer many of the questions they are asking.
First of all, ONF charges membership fees because it costs money to run any organization. Unlike the case with many other organizations, member company dues are our only source of operating funds. We don’t charge any meeting fees; we don’t put on conferences; we don’t have a testing business; we don’t charge for certification; we put on our tutorials without being compensated. Moreover, the benefits of membership include royalty-free access to all related IP contributed by all member companies. Every other SDO I’ve been involved with dodges this whole issue by requiring contributing companies to simply promise to license their IP on “reasonable” terms and non-discriminatory conditions. But they are not required to define “reasonable.” In so many cases “reasonable” to a big company puts a small company out of business, and as a result (as many of you have surely seen) a king’s ransom is paid to lawyers to haggle for years. Even when the licensing is simple, an implementer might have to negotiate with many owners of IP and pay royalties (not to mention legal fees) that vastly dwarf the ONF membership fees, as in general do the salaries of the participants.
Membership in ONF is by company, not by individual, because we want companies to bring SDN products and services to market, and a lot of our efforts are focused on enabling commercialization. ONF does more than produce standards, but we want our standards and specifications developed by those who are making business investments in products and services because their contributions and decisions can directly affect the cost and marketability of implementations or deployments of the technology. Rapid adoption requires practical solutions. Indeed, we have encouraged leading-edge implementers and deployers to take early and evolutionary versions of our technologies and provide feedback on their use that we then use to continuously improve our work products.
We enjoy excellent relations with the research community, in several ways. Many of our participants stay up to date with research innovations, via the literature, conferences, and relations with researchers. Many of our member companies sponsor research or engage in joint research projects with external researchers. Many researchers take our work products and build on them (as with Internet2) and we get a lot of good feedback from them. For the last year we have maintained a small Academic Associates program (now transitioning to a Research Associates program) that gives a select number of pioneering SDN researchers participation privileges (not membership) in ONF for one-year terms (renewable) at no charge. They must demonstrate why they need to be involved in the development rather than use of the basic technology. Note that anyone who participates for free is subsidized by paying members.
A quick look at the list of members on our website (https://opennetworking.org/membership/members) shows that we have all manner of member companies from emerging startups to global powerhouses, all of which pay the same fixed rate. And the talent they contribute to our activities often astonishes me. I believe we are serving the entire SDN community (and all users of networks) well. We strive to innovate in not only the technology but also how to move new technology into the marketplace rapidly (including but not limited to the production of standards as a means toward that end). We remain open to feedback at all times, and we cherish our interactions with all parts of this amazing SDN ecosystem.