Dell Switch Interface Will Speed Up SDN Adoption

The SAI, which is being submitted to the OCP for review, will separate the network OS from the switch silicon, making software development easier.

cloud development

Dell and several other tech vendors want to make running the network operating system on any switch as easy as it is for applications to run on any x86-based server.

Dell Networking officials on March 10 submitted a Switch Abstraction Interface (SAI) to the Open Compute Project (OCP) for review. The network API is the latest step in the disaggregation of the network, which Arpit Joshipura, vice president of product marketing and strategy for Dell Networking, said will be a key step in accelerating adoption of software-defined networking (SDN).

There already is disaggregation of software and hardware in networking, as well as virtual networks and physical networks and the control plane and data plane. However, there is another step that needs to be taken.

"The hardware is still dependent on the silicon," Joshipura told eWEEK.

Currently, unique conversion codes have to be written into software specific to the chips running the switch, whether that silicon is from Intel, Broadcom or other chip makers, he said. The goal of the SAI is to enable the network OS to control the switch regardless of the silicon running it. It will be similar to developers who don't have to worry whether the server their Windows applications are running on are powered by processors from Intel or Advanced Micro Devices, Joshipura said.

"It creates an abstraction layer between the switch and the silicon," he said.

Dell was one of several companies within the OCP that have been working on the idea of SAI since late in 2014. Other participants include Microsoft, Broadcom, Intel and Mellanox Technologies. Facebook also participated in the development of SAI, according to Dell officials.

Dell and the other vendors will conduct multiple demonstrations of the SAI working in systems powered by various chips, Joshipura said. The announcement of the SAI came on the first day of the OCP Summit in San Jose, Calif.

Facebook established the OCP in hopes that open-sourcing infrastructure hardware would lead to breakthroughs in power efficiencies, costs and innovation around data center systems, including servers, storage and networking. Facebook officials said that, due to the work of its own engineers and the OCP, the company over the past three years has saved $2 billion in infrastructure costs and enough energy to power almost 80,000 homes.

The SAI is part of Dell's larger Open Networking initiative, which includes open switches that can run its own network OS as well as Cumulus Networks' Linux-based OS. They also can virtualization software from VMware, Microsoft, Mikokura and Nuage Networks, control planes from Big Switch, NEC and the OpenDaylight Project, and the OpenStack open-source cloud orchestration platform.

Networking has been a focus of the show in its first day. Facebook announced it was contributing its Wedge top-of-rack switch specification to the OCP and working with Cumulus Networks, Big Switch Networks, Broadcom and to create a product package for the OCP community. The social networking giant also is making its FBOSS networking software—created for the Wedge—available to OCP members.

For its part, Big Switch, which makes networking software for open bare-metal systems, announced that the OCP has accepted the vendor's Open Network Linux (ONL) as its reference network operating system (NOS). ONL currently supports 12 disparate open switch hardware platforms and basic Layer 3 routing. It's the Linux distribution that runs underneath Big Switch's commercial Switch Light OS.

"Watching partners and competitors alike come together for common benefit around Open Network Linux is an amazing example of the power of open source," Big Switch CTO Rob Sherwood said in a statement. "ONL is an important step forward for the community to accelerate bare-metal adoption and drive cost savings for open hardware."

In addition, Cumulus, which makes the Cumulus Linux OS for open networking, announced that its Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI) for OS integration with servers, laptops and desktop PCs, can now support network OS integration with bare-metal switches. With the expansion to the spec—called ACPI Platform Description—enables hardware makers to more quickly integrated network operating systems.

"Great networking no longer requires a vendor-locked stack," Reza Malekzadeh, vice president of business for Cumulus, said in a statement. "With APD for bare metal switches, networking is catching up with the server business. Now it's all about cloud economics, speed of service delivery and a robust solutions ecosystem."