Broadcom Creates Open Development Platform for Switches

The vendor's OpenNSL APIs, announced at the OCP Summit, will let programmers write software for networking switches powered by its StrataXGS hardware.

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Broadcom is rolling out a software platform that will enable developers to create applications for networking switches that are powered by the company's silicon.

Broadcom introduced its Open Network Switch Library (OpenNSL) March 10 at the Open Compute Project (OCP) Summit in San Jose, Calif. The APIs that are included in the open development platform will enable developers to build software for Broadcom's StrataXGS switch hardware.

Company officials said they expect the platform to drive the growth of a software ecosystem around the StrataXGS architecture and the broad array of networking systems that are powered by Broadcom's chips. The company sells chips to such top-tier networking vendors like Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Extreme Networks, Juniper Networks and Arista Networks, as well as to the growing bare-metal switch market, which is being driven in large part by such technologies as software-defined networking (SDN) and network-functions virtualization (NFV).

Such bare-metal and white-box switches enable customers to choose what network operating systems and applications run on the hardware, regardless of what company made the hardware. OEMs like Dell, HP and Juniper also are building open switches that allow for third-party software to run on top of them, a trend Gartner analysts refer to as "brite boxes."

Broadcom has been working with others on the OpenNSL project, according to Ram Velaga, senior vice president and general manager of network switches for the company.

"Our software is designed to give developers direct access to Broadcom's rich feature set, enabling a higher degree of programmability and providing better control and management of the network," Velaga said in a statement.

The APIs in the OpenNSL platform map Broadcom's software development kit (SDK) to an open northbound interface, which officials said enables new applications to be integrated and leverage switch hardware platforms for such networking tasks as networking monitoring, load balancing, traffic engineering, workload optimization and service chaining.

The OpenNSL APIs also support Broadcom's BroadView suite of network monitoring and analytics tools, according to the company.

Networking has been a focus at the OCP Summit, including the relationship between the silicon and the hardware it runs. Dell, Microsoft and several other tech vendors—including Broadcom and Intel—submitted to the OCP for review the Switch Abstraction Interface (SAI), a network API that enables the network OS to control the switch regardless of the silicon running it. Currently, developers have to write unique conversion codes into software specific to the chips running the switch, whether that silicon is from Intel, Broadcom or others.

With the SAI, running network applications on switches will be similar to running workloads on x86 servers, according to Dell officials. Software developers don't have to worry about whether the Windows applications they develop will run on servers powered by Intel or Advanced Micro Devices chips. They just know the applications will run regardless of the silicon.

In addition, Facebook announced it is contributing the Wedge spec for top-of-rack network switches to the OCP, and is making its FBOSS networking software—created for the Wedge—available to OCP members.