It’s been a fascinating few weeks for open networking.  Working backwards in time:

  • Yesterday, Juniper Networks has announced that they are moving in to the Brite Box (BRanded whITE box) space with their OCX1100

  • Tuesday, a group of 100+ developers lead by Microsoft and Dell held an Open Compute workshop on a ASIC-independent Switch Abstraction Interface

  • Just before Thanksgiving, we at Big Switch released the Open Route Cache - alpha-quality but open source routing code for Open Network Linux project

Let’s dig a bit more into each of these points:

Brite Boxes from Dell and Now Juniper

While the world has been talking about white box switches, that is, switches purchased directly from an ODM, the notion of “branded white box” or Brite Box is picking up momentum.  This summer, Dell announced that it would be the first traditional networking vendor to disaggregate its hardware (e.g., the Dell 4810-ON and S6000-ON) offerings from their software products (e.g., the FTOS software from their Force10 acquisition).  This makes a ton of sense for a company like Dell because they’ve figured out how to run a business with commodity hardware.  However, this week’s announcement from Juniper--a traditional high-margin networking company--that they would be doing the same really underscores the point.  Disaggregation of hardware and software from traditional, name brand networking companies is the future.  The only question is who will be the next company to jump (e.g., HP, Arista, Brocade, or even potentially Cisco).  Rumors are flying on this front so stay tuned.

Open Compute Project Momentum

If you aren’t familiar with the Open Compute Project, championed by FaceBook, Microsoft, and others, it’s definitely worth a read.  Open Compute is trying to redesign data centers from the ground up and critically is putting all of the hardware and software designs into the open for all to use.  This week’s Switch Abstraction Interface (SAI) workshop was just one more example of their progress.  The idea is to work around the closed-source nature of existing switching ASIC SDKs by creating a light, ASIC-independent abstraction layer.  While the group has a long road ahead of it, the fact that 100+ folks showed up on a rainy Tuesday from around the globe for a half-day hackfest shows the dedication to this effort.  More than just attendance, a number of big names are driving the effort including Facebook, Microsoft, Dell, Mellanox, and Broadcom.  If you’re interested, check out my talk on what the SAI means for the larger network operating system software stack.

New Open Source Networking Software: ORC

While announcements and momentum are great, actual running code remains the coin of the realm.  Big Switch released the Open Route Cache (aka “ORC”) which does the state syncing between a standard software routing stack (e.g. Quagga, Xorp, Bird) to the underlying hardware.  In other words, using ORC running on Open Network Linux, you can stand up a hardware accelerated 1+Tb/s router, complete with BGP, OSPF, or a protocol of your own design.  While this open source code is the “Hello World” of open networking and is not ready for production (read: it’s not heavily tested and does not support IPv6, IP multicast, or ECMP), it is already gaining traction among DIY-types and will definitely mature over time.

--Rob Sherwood, Big Switch CTO