How can POF benefit Service Providers & Network Operators

Protocol Oblivious Forwarding (POF) aims to be a groundbreaking technology that will shape the future SDN forwarding plane infrastructure. POF enhances the current SDN forwarding plane with the following advantages:

l      Enable fast innovation and new source of revenue. POF-enabled FEs can support any existing or new protocols and network services without vendor-supported FE upgrades. Users can implement proprietary protocols easily to meet forwarding, security, and OAM requirements. It can significantly accelerate the new service introduction.

l      Enable OPEX reduction. POF provides a stable and future-proof forwarding plane and a standard southbound interface for sustainable SDN evolvement. New services are deployed in the form of standard or customized software offered by third parties. Users have full controllability and visibility to their networks. 

l      Enable CAPEX reduction. POF makes standard-based software and hardware possible. The open market helps users avoid vendor lock-in. The white-box devices and the standard forwarding ASICs can be used to offer better performance at lower cost. 

What is POF

A POF forwarding element does no need to understand the packet format. In POF, flow table search keys are defined as {offset, length} tuples, and instructions access data using {offset, length} tuples. The figure below is a basic IPv4 process flow used for demonstrating how POF works. The ‘Type’ is denoted with {12B, 2B}, the ‘Destination IP Address’ is denoted with {30B, 4B}, etc.


In order to demonstrate the capability of POF and evaluate the possibility of using the existing hardware to support POF, we have developed two prototypes in parallel.  One is an open-source software prototype. The other is based on one of our NP-based router platforms. The POF software-based switch is published on this website, and any person and community can play with it, expand it, optimize it, and run innovative services on top of it. It is our hope that our efforts can stir interests in both industry and academia.

Future Research Work of POF

Many other tasks and research work are laid ahead: we need to perfect the Flow Instruction Set, come up with the optimal chip and system architecture, strive for the best performance, design the high level language and program compiler, support forwarding plane virtualization, and solve other related technical issues. But the most important thing is standardization, just like what has already happened in the PC industry.