Posts Tagged ‘Networking’

Facebook’s Open Compute Project Starts to Crack Networking

March 12th, 2015

The Open Compute Project says it has broken tight bonds between hardware and software that have kept networking closed for decades — and it took less than two years.

The Open Compute Project says it has broken tight bonds between hardware and software that have kept networking closed for decades — and it took less than two years.

Switches and routers traditionally have been “black boxes” with hardware and software from the same vendor and no way for others with new ideas to modify them. Networking is like Unix servers 15 years ago, with proprietary hardware and OSes ruling the day, said Omar Baldonado, Facebook’s manager of infrastructure software engineering. An OCP effort that began in May 2013 has now opened that world up a little bit, he told the OCP Summit in San Jose on Tuesday.

Vendor proposals, development work and tests since then have led to the first switches built with open-source hardware designs, as well as the beginnings of a full open-source software stack for networking equipment. With these, software from one vendor can run on hardware from another, potentially opening the floodgates to more innovation to meet the needs of enterprises.

OCP operates like other open-source projects, taking contributions from vendors and other developers and reviewing them for inclusion in a set of specifications that’s freely available. The difference is that OCP mainly certifies hardware designs instead of code. Its testing efforts include ensuring that the open technology works with conventional gear that most enterprises will still have in their networks for many years.

The networking effort wasn’t easy at first, because no one had ever shared switch hardware designs, Baldonado said. There were difficult issues to work through, including intellectual property licensing. But late last year, OCP accepted its first open switch design, a 10-Gigabit Ethernet switch from Taiwan-based Accton Technology.

“This is an industry first. Nowhere else can you go and just get the design package for a switch,” Baldonado said. “Anybody can build this.”

More hardware is on the way. One high-profile design is Facebook’s Wedge, a 10-Gigabit switch to link all the servers in a rack, which the company has just proposed as a contribution to OCP. Accton announced it plans to start selling Wedge-based switches this quarter, and other vendors plan to use the design, too. Broadcom, Mellanox and Alpha Networks have also contributed hardware designs that are being reviewed by OCP.

But open networking also takes software, and OCP is working on that, too. On Tuesday, OCP accepted Open Network Linux, a switch OS contributed by Big Switch Networks. Microsoft has kicked off a multi-vendor project to build SAI (Switch Abstraction Interface), a common programming layer to access basic switch functions on any open hardware. The project’s next goal is to develop a full software stack for open network gear.

Also on Tuesday, Broadcom released the Open Network Switch Library, which gives developers access to the SDK (software development kit) for the company’s StrataXGS switch silicon.

This is a major breakthrough, according to Najam Ahmad, Facebook’s director of technical operations. Switching is done by custom chips that take years to develop, so even designers of open switches need to turn to silicon vendors like Broadcom. For truly open networking, developers have to be able to program those chips, and that requires access to an SDK, Ahmad said. Until now, Broadcom required a license for its SDK. “You can get a box, but you can’t program it without the license,” he said.

The open library is good news for FBoss, the software that Facebook wrote to run the Wedge, because FBoss works through Broadcom’s SDK to talk to the switching chips, Ahmad said.

Facebook hopes OCP creates a broad ecosystem of networking vendors that it can tap into to solve problems in the future. The company estimates that OCP technology and related efficiency work have saved it $2 billion in infrastructure costs. The Wedge switch and its software are already in production use in Facebook data centers, Baldonado said. “If you’re one of the 1.4 billion users of Facebook, odds are you’re going through FBoss.”


IBM Exploring Sale of Software-Defined Networking Business

February 3rd, 2014

A week after selling its server business unit to Lenovo, IBM is now exploring the sale of some of its networking assets and may be seeking as much as a $1 billion, sources familiar with the matter tell Re/code.

When Big Blue sold its x86 server unit to Lenovo in a deal worth $2.3 billion last week, included with the deal were several networking products — switches and other goods used to enable connections between servers.

Not included in the sale to Lenovo was another IBM product line focused on software-defined networking. IBM calls it Software Defined Network for Virtual Environments.

SDN is a relatively new networking technology that allows for networks within data centers to be set up and configured quickly using only software, similar to the way that virtual machines are “spun up” within servers. The benefit is that the network becomes more flexible and easier to change without the need to swap out new hardware.

IBM is said to have informally approached several companies in the networking business, including Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco, Juniper and Fujitsu, to gauge interest. As IBM has recently spent big to expand its Watson cognitive computing unit as well as its SoftLayer cloud computing unit, the SDN unit is not seen as strategically important, according to a source familiar with the company’s thinking.

It’s unclear how interested those companies might be in buying the unit. One executive at one of the companies approached, who asked not to be named because the matter is private, said his company would at the very least “take a look in order to understand it.”

Ed Barbini, a spokesman for IBM, had no comment, citing the company’s policy of not commenting on rumors and speculation. Representatives of HP, Dell and Juniper declined to comment. A representative for Fujitsu was not immediately available.

Several SDN startups have materialized in recent years, including Big Switch Networks and Nicira (now part of VMware), with the aim of attacking established networking vendors like Cisco Systems and Juniper.

Meanwhile, those same networking vendors — Cisco and Hewlett-Packard and Dell — have all sought to push various flavors of SDN technology of their own and have helped create different standards around it.

IBM had been involved with a standards effort known as Open Daylight, which garnered support from Cisco and HP among others, but which has not received wide-scale industry backing.

One stumbling block may be the price IBM is seeking. One executive described IBM’s initial asking price of $1 billion as “pretty optimistic.”


Software defined networking (SDN) a $13bn opportunity

August 20th, 2013

Software defined networking (SDN) is seen as an essential tool to ensure future profitability in today’s mobile networks, and wireless carriers have already begun trial engagements of the technology according to ARCchart. The London-based research firm is predicting that annual spending on mobile SDN solutions will reach $13 billion by 2018.

Conventional networking technology relies on an embedded control plane within hardware components that enables switching, routing and traffic engineering functionality while the data plane simply forwards packet-based traffic. SDN removes control plane functions from individual networking hardware, and moves these to a centralized location.

The use of centralized software-based network control across multiple network elements enables a several benefits, including increased efficiency, faster time for new service deployment, and the ability to build multiple virtual networks over a common physical network fabric. SDN also enables tremendous cost savings by reducing reliance on proprietary hardware platforms used for conventional ‘hardware defined’ networking.

Amid growing requirements for mobile broadband capacity, wireless carrier are echoing demands for a network architecture that can cost-effectively scale services via software, without requiring large investments in proprietary hardware platforms. Mobile SDN promises to make these dreams a reality, with use-cases ranging from centralizing the control of radio access networks (RANs) to virtualizing the mobile core. ARCchart expects global spending on mobile SDN technology to grow at a CAGR of nearly 120% between 2013 and 2018.


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