Facebook Extends Open Compute Model with New Network Switch

NEWS ANALYSIS: Facebook added another component to its Open Compute networking infrastructure by introducing a new top-of-rack switch it has named "Wedge."

Facebook Network Switch

Facebook has been busy not just in finding more ways for everyone in the world to waste time posting updates on what they had for breakfast and cute cats, but also in changing the underlying networking infrastructure the enterprise has come to know and love.

At this week’s GigaOm's Structure 2014 conference, Facebook executive Jay Parikh, Vice President of Infrastructure Engineering, talked about the company’s plans to bring the Open Compute model to the enterprise networking infrastructure and unveiled a software-controlled top of rack network switch.

"The switch is modular and will go into the open compute program at some point," Parikh told the audience. The switch, named Wedge, and the accompanying software management system named FBOSS, are the latest examples of Facebook's drive to create a modular hardware infrastructure separated from software and ready to be tuned to particular workloads.

Open Compute is a project started at Facebook to utilize commodity hardware components in concert with software, which would be shared to the open source community. The 40 GB, 16-port switch currently includes an Intel microserver. In his presentation at the GigaOm conference (which I watched via LiveStream), Parikh said the new switch and software was part of the continued disaggregation of the network and the Facebook engineers now considered the switch more like a server rather than a dedicated box.

In a Facebook blog post coinciding with the GigaOm appearance, Facebook engineers Yuval Bachar and Adam Simpkins wrote: "Today we're pleased to unveil the next step: a new top-of-rack network switch, code-named "Wedge," and a new Linux-based operating system for that switch, code-named "FBOSS." These projects break down the hardware and software components of the network stack even further to provide a new level of visibility, automation and control in the operation of the network. By combining the hardware and software modules together in new ways, "Wedge" and "FBOSS" depart from current networking design paradigms."

New paradigms were much on the minds of the other speakers I caught on the webcast. Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla dinged the traditional enterprise technology vendors for not accomplishing much in the way of innovation in the past 30 years. Khosla, an engineer by training, said the entire engineering model has to change from creating designs solely for performance and cost to designing for agility and change.

"I think we have to re-engineer engineering itself to optimize for change," said Khosla. One of the more controversial changes required in the enterprise space involves taking humans out of the process for managing system changes and upgrades in favor of automated systems that control data center management chores. "It is ridiculous to have humans manage the level of complexity in the data center," said Khosla.

The GigaOm event started off with a conversation between Amazon Web Services CTO Werner Vogels and the conference's founder Om Malik. In response to questions about security and cloud computing, Vogels contended that issues such as security, privacy and compliance are best addressed through good system design and controls rather than regulatory bodies.

He noted that encryption has been part of the Amazon cloud infrastructure from the very start with Amazon customers holding the encryption keys and tools required to keep their data safe. In regards to competition, he said the marketing message should be built around building a bigger cloud community. "We've always said this is too good a business. It's not a winner-take-all environment," said Vogels.

GigaOm Structure is a key event related to enterprise infrastructure and this year's session included customers describing their cloud journey. Examples included Gap making a transition to the OpenStack computing model and GE implementing cloud-based group development models. The video presentations are available and GigaOm has done a good job at making its conference material globally available.

Eric Lundquist is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Lundquist, who was editor-in-chief at eWEEK (previously PC WEEK) from 1996-2008 authored this article for eWEEK to share his thoughts on technology, products and services. No investment advice is offered in this article. All duties are disclaimed. Lundquist works separately for a private investment firm which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this article and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.