Six months ago, Facebook announced that its Open Compute Project (OCP) would develop a top-of-rack switch that could boot nearly any type of networking software. With the help of Intel, Broadcom, and others, the consortium devoted to open hardware specifications would develop a rival to Cisco’s network hardware.
Today, Facebook and friends described the first tangible steps they’ve taken toward reaching that goal. Intel, Broadcom, Mellanox, and Cumulus Networks have contributed specs and software that bring the Open Compute Project closer to a finished switch design.
Frank Frankovsky, VP of hardware design and supply chain operations at Facebook and head of the Open Compute Project, announced the latest developments in a blog post and conference call with reporters today. Frankovsky says the project is on track to “help software-defined networking continue to evolve and flourish,” since open source software-defined networking systems could be installed on Open Compute switches.
Intel has contributed a specification for a bare-metal, top-of-rack switch. “The specification describes a 48×4 10/40G switch [48 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports and four 40 Gig ports] including all necessary subsystems for switching, control CPU, peripherals, external interfaces, power, cooling, and mechanical enclosure,” Intel said in the announcement.
An Intel official on today’s conference call said the spec does not require Intel components, although it’s likely any products based on it would use Intel chips. The company has published an example of a switch that adheres to its proposed specification.
Intel’s contribution is one of four major ones, and one of about 30 total “covering most of the network hardware stack and even some of the network software stack,” Frankovsky wrote.
Broadcom contributed a network switch specification of its own, saying it “address[es] popular leaf and spine switch configurations and feature requirements, in compliance with the charter defined by the OCP networking initiative… Our network switch specification is based on the widely deployed Trident switch architecture [a Broadcom product], which supports a wide ecosystem of networking operating systems and applications.”
Mellanox is also contributing a top-of-rack switch specification, and Cumulus Networks is contributing its Open Network Install Environment, a “network boot loader to install software on network switches.”
The building of an open switch specification follows the Open Compute Project’s work on reference designs for servers, motherboards, storage, racks, and interconnects. As we noted previously, “Facebook itself has used these designs to buy hardware directly from original design manufacturers (ODMs) that build servers exactly to Facebook’s specifications. This approach strips out many of the hardware and software features companies like HP and Dell insert into general-purpose products, making them cheaper and more efficient.”
The network project would similarly provide an alternative to vendors like Cisco, Arista Networks, and Dell’s Force 10 division. The Open Compute Project promises a “specification and a reference box for an open, OS-agnostic top-of-rack switch.” Whether that reference box will be based on an amalgam of submitted specifications or just one of them isn’t clear yet, and no release date has been set.
Although Facebook is the most obvious beneficiary, about seven to 10 potential users of the open network tech, including Fidelity and Goldman Sachs, have been participating in workshops to review the specifications, Open Compute officials said.
Cisco has thus far professed to be unbothered by the Open Compute Project. Cisco has gotten involved in open networking projects such as OpenDaylight and says it will offer compelling alternatives to Open Compute. “What we will not do is leave that concept alone like we did SDN and allow other people to gain the high ground and then play defense,” Cisco CEO John Chambers told Network World in July. “This one you will see us out ahead of the game on.”
Last week, Cisco announced an “open set of APIs” and partnerships with various tech giants to advance its so-called Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) that aims to speed up deployment of applications. The APIs can help with management, orchestration, monitoring, virtualization, network services, and storage, “allow[ing] the network to rapidly respond to the needs of applications while delivering up to 75 percent TCO savings compared to merchant silicon-based competitor switches and software-only network virtualization solutions,” Cisco said.
In response to today’s Facebook announcement, Cisco said in a statement to Ars, “It’s important to acknowledge that the largest web-scale companies driving OCP have the skills, resources, and specialized traffic patterns that justify considering this approach carefully. However, most IT departments won’t relish taking on the additional operational cost, skills and expertise that are required to integrate their own technology.
“We’re finding that the majority of customers are looking for a turnkey solution that gives them the programmability and flexibility they want, with lower operating costs, and that’s exactly what Cisco ACI will deliver, without compromises on scale, performance and security.”