Big Switch Networks, Facebook and NTT are unveiling a Linux-based network operating system that can be used to bring together the disparate networking components that have been developed within the Facebook-led Open Compute Project.
The three companies will demonstrate Open Network Linux (ONL) Oct. 9 at the Open Compute Project’s (OCP) Engineering Workshop in Boston.
Big Switch has been working with the OCP since the company was launched, and its commercial products have come from the work the vendor has done within the community, according to co-founder Kyle Forster. Big Switch contributed Open Network Linux to the OCP, and now more than 15 open switch hardware platforms—including Facebook’s Wedge switch and another product from Accton Technologies—support the operating system.
Over the past several years, a range of disparate open-source networking components have been contributed to the OCP, but there have remained challenges in such areas as integration and development.
“It was our observation that the OCP networking stack was a diverse set of components, but the lack of a unified distribution led to fragmented development efforts across the community,” Forster said in an email to eWEEK. “ONL isn’t a revenue-driven networking vendor product—it is free to download, after all—but rather, it is intended as a focal point for collaboration across the OCP/hyperscale community and the bare-metal/open-switching supply chain.”
Network virtualization and open networking efforts are changing the way network infrastructures can be built and managed, and are giving hyperscale organizations and enterprises an alternative to traditional solutions in which all the network hardware and software comes from a single vendor. The push for open hardware and software in the data center has come, in part, from hyperscale players like Facebook and Google, which in their drive for greater performance and power efficiency have developed their own technologies to run in their massive facilities.
Facebook launched the OCP four years ago with the idea of driving open-source designs for everything from servers and storage appliances to networking gear and power supplies. Facebook last year launched its open-source Wedge switch, and earlier this year introduced the six-pack networking module. Overall, the social networking company has saved more than $2 billion in data center costs by leveraging open technologies.
Networking has been a focus in the OCP for a couple of years, and the Open Network Linux OS is designed to be a way of bringing the various components with the group together. It will help drive developer and user interest in the open-source networking technologies, and reduce the amount of time they need to get OCP networking up and running, according to officials with Big Switch, Facebook and NTT.
A key innovation in Open Network Linux are pluggable forwarding agents, which establishes the switch’s relationship to the rest of the network. The operating system gives developers in the hyperscale community a common networking base and platform code. However, organizations can decide which forwarding agents they want to use on top of the platform code, or they can design their own forwarding agents based on their needs.
“I’m proud that this architecture strikes the right balance of shared code and pluggable agents,” Big Switch CTO Rob Sherwood, who helped create Open Network Linux, said in a statement. “We are unifying disparate efforts in the hyperscale networking development community without locking anyone into any specific architecture.”
The demonstration this week will be run on a Wedge switch using forwarding agents: Facebook Open Switch System (FBOSS), L3 Routing from NTT and OpenFlow from Big Switch.
Big Switch, Facebook to Demonstrate Open Switch Software
The Open Network Linux news comes days after Hewlett-Packard announced its own open network operating system—OpenSwitch—and community in conjunction with such partners as Intel, Arista Networks, Broadcom and VMware. HP officials said other open OSes didn’t offer the flexibility and scalability needed in modern data centers. Big Switch’s Forster said the two projects “have different roots and different architectures,” noting the forwarding agent architecture of Open Network Linux, which enables users to leverage Linux APIs to develop customized forwarding algorithms to their data center designs.
“I see OpenSwitch featuring a SysDB-style architecture, much like Arista’s EOS, optimizing for a similar enterprise market,” he said. “Both ONL and OpenSwitch are in the formative stages of their lifecycles, and I don’t have a prediction yet on how these two projects will play out. They may even be synergistic down the road. The interplay between the market and the open-source communities is going to be a fascinating one to watch here, and I’m excited to have a front-row seat.”
Forster also pushed back at Cisco executives—who, when asked about HP’s OpenSwitch OS, said disaggregation may have a role in some instances, but that when organizations look for networking, they also are looking for such capabilities as advanced security and analytics, which come with holistic, integrated offerings like their own.
“Open hardware strategies—like ONL and Big Switch’s commercial products—give users vastly more power over their vendors than they previously had,” he said. “It is more a commercial than a technical issue. When I look at the security and analytics feature sets in our products and those of our open hardware peers, the diversity and innovation is impressive.”
Forster also said that Big Switch’s “software engineering team does about 12 major software releases with new features in the same amount of time it takes to design new features into a new ASIC version for closed hardware. It is my view, that difference in velocity for key features, especially when paired with a tight focus on specific user needs, results in more happy end customers faster.”