It has been amazing to witness the adoption of open networking during the past few years years. The Open Compute Project (OCP) has been a catalyst for adoption of and innovation in open networking advancements. The practice of disaggregating network hardware and software, first employed by hyperscale organizations, is increasingly being adopted by mainstream enterprise and service provider customers alike, across multiple use cases. The vendor ecosystem (see diagram below) has also expanded rapidly with both traditional suppliers as well as networking startups to provide turn-key solutions (with production-grade technical support) as well as DevNetOps workflows.

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Open Networking Software

As a new year begins, the concepts of compliance, consolidation and simplification are the key drivers for continued innovation from vendors across the open networking software landscape.  

While compliance has always been important to networking companies that work with government agencies, achieving compliance with an open source network operating system has not been easy. Most open source network operating systems run on older kernels no longer under support. This means security, bug and other patches are not available and must be created or back-ported and will not have undergone the same level of scrutiny as the patches provided by LTS (Long Time Support) kernel developers.


Open Network Linux (ONL) -- Reference Platform OS for OCP

The Open Network Linux team is focused on delivering a platform OS that is tailored to the open networking goals. It enables hardware suppliers to have faster access to multiple forwarding (platform independent) OSes. Simultaneously, forwarding OS providers don’t need to make costly investments in platform dependent code for every new hardware device. Platform code is not where there is a lot of value, so it needs to be developed once and shared by all. The open networking software stack is depicted in the diagram below. 

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More than 30 open networking switches are now on the ONL hardware compatibility list.


Open Network Linux in 2017

Open Network Linux has implemented a per-system/manufacturer based modular kernel, which is based on the Debian Linux 3.16 LTS kernel. Moving all of the system/manufacturer based kernel changes into modules has a few benefits:

  • Each system is only running kernel modifications that are relevant. E.g. kernel changes necessary to support special hardware on one vendor switch will not affect other switches from the same vendor or switches from other vendors.

  • Adding new systems to ONL is much simpler as kernel modules can be reviewed within a limited scope and pushing new systems to ONL does not impact current systems, even within the same manufacturer.

  • By keeping the kernels stock, all security, bug and other necessary patches directly from the LTS maintainer can be applied on an as-needed basis, which simplifies compliance as all patches are public / peer reviewed and specific to the kernel that is running. Previously, patches would have needed to be back-ported to cover legacy kernels. 

Along with the simplification of ONL, we are also working to simplify and expand support of the  Facebook Wedge family of systems with a focus on a few key areas. The main focus with the Wedge systems is BMC integration with the ONL Platform library (ONLP); this infrastructure enhancement will help the OCP community extend ONL support to Backpack and other modular switch systems in the future. This is in line with what we see in the industry, more vendors are utilizing BMCs to manage the base system components (fans, power) and to provide a way to recover and debug systems that have had failures, mechanical or human.

We continue to support newer API driven forwarding agents and the open networking systems they run on.


ONL Use Cases

We see many unique use cases from the networking community.  

The telco industry has widely adopted CoRD (Central office ReDesigned), a recent study from IHS Markit showed that 70% of carriers surveyed plan to deploy CoRD in their central offices and we are proud to be at the center of the ON.Lab CoRD project.




We are also seeing an uptick in specialty routing agents utilizing APIs for configuration and programming languages like Go to produce a better user experience. NTT Labs used ONL as a demonstration for their EVPN Go BGP project.

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We are proud to be part of such an important and ever expanding community and are appreciative for the support the community and industry have provided us.

The ONL Team at Big Switch Networks
Open Network Linux is a Linux distribution for open network switches, that is, network forwarding devices built from commodity components. ONL uses ONIE to install onto on-board flash memory. Open Network Linux is a part of the Open Compute Project and is a component in a growing collection of open source and commercial projects. The Open Network Linux team at Big Switch is comprised of the following members of Big Switch Networks staff: Steven Noble, Open Networking Evangelist, Jeff Townend, Director of Switch Engineering, and Carl Roth, Technical Staff. Kyle Forster, Founder and Prashant Gandhi, Chief Product Officer are the executive sponsors for Open Network Linux.
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