Using deep programmability to put network owners in control

Nate Foster, Nick Mckeown, Jennifer Rexford, Guru Parulkar, Larry Peterson, Oguz Sunay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Controlling an opaque system by reading some "dials"and setting some "knobs,"without really knowing what they do, is a hazardous and fruitless endeavor, particularly at scale. What we need are transparent networks, that start at the top with a high-level intent and map all the way down, through the control plane to the data plane. If we can specify the behavior we want in software, then we can check that the system behaves as we expect. This is impossible if the implementation is opaque. We therefore need to use open-source software or write it ourselves (or both), and have mechanisms for checking actual behavior against the specified intent. With fine-grain checking (e.g., every packet, every state variable), we can build networks that are more reliable, secure, and performant. In the limit, we can build networks that run autonomously under verifiable, closed-loop control. We believe this vision, while ambitious, is finally within our reach, due to deep programmability across the stack, both vertically (control and data plane) and horizontally (end to end). It will emerge naturally in some networks, as network owners take control of their software and engage in open-source efforts; whereas in enterprise networks it may take longer. In 5G access networks, there is a pressing need for our community to engage, so these networks, too, can operate autonomously under verifiable, closed-loop control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)82-88
Number of pages7
JournalComputer Communication Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 26 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Software
  • Computer Networks and Communications


  • network verification
  • programmable networks
  • software defined networks (SDN)
  • telemetry


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