Progress in opening up the network

Just six months ago, we announced our intention to expand the charter of the Open Compute Project to include networking hardware.

At the time, it was our hope that we could build on the momentum we'd established in opening up server, storage, and datacenter designs and collaborate with the broader community on the development of an open, OS-agnostic top-of-rack switch. Such a switch, we believed, would enable a faster pace of innovation in the development of networking hardware; help software-defined networking continue to evolve and flourish; and ultimately provide consumers of these technologies with the freedom they need to build infrastructures that are flexible, scalable, and efficient across the entire stack.

Our progress so far has exceeded even our lofty expectations -- hundreds of people are actively collaborating on the development of more than 30 potential contributions, covering most of the network hardware stack and even some of the network software stack.

We'd like to highlight four contributions in particular, all of them currently being considered by the OCP Incubation Committee and likely to be accepted soon.

Broadcom was the first to develop a full specification for and implementation of an open switch. Here's how they describe it:

"Broadcom has developed an Open Network Switch specification, addressing popular leaf and spine switch configurations and feature requirements, in compliance with the charter defined by the OCP networking initiative. The specification delivers the foundation for efficient, high performance, and flexible network architectures, complementing the goals of the OCP networking initiatives. Our network switch specification is based on the widely deployed Trident switch architecture, which supports a wide ecosystem of networking operating systems and applications. The specification utilizes the latest in the Trident family, the Trident II, bringing the most advanced and comprehensive feature set into the open switch ecosystem. We have been successful in delivering the first version of the specification and working switch systems from our hardware partner that complies with the specification -- all in less than six months. We believe this specification will enable faster innovation in the market and more choice for data center operators and telecom service providers. " 

Cumulus Networks has proposed its Open Network Install Environment (ONIE) software as a contribution to OCP:

"ONIE, which was introduced by Cumulus Networks and is supported by networking OEM, ODM, and communication silicon vendors across the globe, is an industry standard network boot loader to install software on network switches, thus enabling a bare metal Ethernet switch ecosystem. ONIE defines a runtime install environment that supports multiple network operating system vendors at scale that -- for the first time -- effectively provides customers more control and the ability to choose when it comes to their networking hardware and software. ONIE's open install environment can be supported on a range of existing ODM switches, as well as the open network switch design specifications being developed by the Open Compute Project, ultimately enabling end users to select among different network operating systems and a variety of compatible hardware."

Intel has also developed a specification for an open switch, and they describe it as follows:

"Intel’s proposed contribution to the Open Compute Project network working group is a specification for a bare-metal, top-of-rack switch. The specification describes a 48x4 10/40G switch including all necessary subsystems for switching, control CPU, peripherals, external interfaces, power, cooling, and mechanical enclosure. An example of a switch that adheres to this specification, based on Intel parts, can be found here. Platforms based on this spec enable more choice, improved flexibility, and a better cost structure for customers who choose to implement a software defined approach for networking and switching. To complement the proposed contribution to the OCP working group, Intel brings an ecosystem of partners ready to supply production level systems with a variety of solution capabilities."

Finally, Mellanox is the third company to have developed a specification for an open switch. Here's their description:

"Mellanox is expanding its Open Compute Project portfolio offering with the proposed contribution of its SwitchX-2 x86-based top-of-rack switch specification. The switch supports 48 SFP+ ports and 12 QSFP ports, enabling non-blocking connectivity within the OCP Open Rack, or alternatively, enabling 60 10GbE server ports when using QSFP+ to SFP+ breakout cables to increase rack efficiency for less bandwidth demanding applications. The new switch will be the first to enable ONIE over x86, and we expect it to dramatically improve power consumption, latency, and density and enable larger, more efficient, and more cost-effective datacenter designs."

Taken together, these contributions are tremendous steps forward toward our vision of a truly disaggregated network stack. They are also vivid proof of the OCP community's ability to work together, in the open, to develop innovative new technologies -- and to do so at an almost unheard-of pace.

We will continue our work on these technologies and others later this week, at the OCP engineering workshop being held at University of Texas at San Antonio. We hope to see you there!