Hewlett-Packard made a strong entrance into the growing open networking field earlier this year with the release of its Altoline of switches, enabling customers to buy the branded systems and run third-party software on top of them.
Now the tech company is expanding its efforts in the space, leading the launch of a Linux-based open-source network operating system (NOS) that will give networking vendors, developers and customers the ability to more easily optimize their networks for the rapidly changing demands being put on the data center.
HP officials on Oct. 5 unveiled the OpenSwitch community and NOS, joining with such partners as Arista Networks, Broadcom, Intel, VMware and Accton Technology, an original design manufacturer (ODM) that HP is working with in making the Altoline switch family. Mark Carroll, CTO of HP Networking, told eWEEK he expects more tech vendors will quickly join the community.
The thrust behind OpenSwitch is the need for an open NOS that can help enterprises and service providers address the growing need for scalability, flexibility and vendor independence in data centers that are under pressure from a digital economy that is always on and is generating massive amounts of data, according to Carroll. The need to scale comes from the rapid increase in network traffic, while networks need to be flexible enough to change directions on demand to meet the changing business needs. An open NOS that isn’t tied to a single vendor helps meet both those needs as well, he said.
The push toward network virtualization—driven by the need for improved agility, programmability and scalability—has fueled the idea of putting the control plane and networking tasks into software that can run on a range of inexpensive commodity systems. Original design manufacturers (ODMs) have taken advantage of the trend to offer white boxes that can run the software. HP and other networking vendors—particularly Dell and Juniper Networks—have responded by offering branded networking gear that can run third-party software from the likes of Cumulus Networks and Pica8.
Now HP is leading the push for a completely open NOS. Carroll said the move is a significant step away from the traditional way networking has been done, where the hardware and software were developed by engineers from a single vendor. With OpenSwitch, any other company—including other networking vendors—can join the community, work on the operating system and leverage it for their own use.
“We will be putting it out there for any member to join or create their own [distributions of OpenSwitch],” Carroll said, adding that such an open environment is the only way to drive the scale of innovation needed in the data center.
Other vendors see this as the natural direction for the networking industry.
“We see this as another shot across Cisco’s bow,” Steve Garrison, vice president of marketing at Pica8, told eWEEK in an email. “The industry is demanding choice on all fronts. No one wants a lock-in solution. HP is leading this charge with open-source technology and choice in multiple network operating systems.”
Jeff Raymond, vice president of product management and services for Arista’s own EOS networking operating system, said HP’s effort fits in with the philosophy of his own company.
“Arista has always embraced merchant silicon and open standards-based networking,” Raymond said in a statement. “We believe the future integration of DevOps and NetOps requires a best-of-breed ecosystem across the cloud stack. We welcome the OpenSwitch initiative as another example of disrupting the legacy models.”
The move toward disaggregation also pushes back at the direction taken by networking market leader Cisco Systems, whose officials say the trend in customer demand is toward integrated solutions that remove the responsibility of making disparate systems interoperable and free them up to spend more of their time innovating on their businesses.
HP Launches Open-Source Network OS, Community
However, during the company’s Global Editor’s Conference Oct. 5 in California, Cisco executives noted that the company is embracing open technology, with CEO Chuck Robbins noting that the company is seeing projects where its software is running on x86 servers. However, the levels of security and analytics needed in today’s networking environments require high performance hardware that open systems may not be able to supply, Robbins said in a response to a question from eWEEK’s Chris Preimesberger.
The CEO also questioned whether the growing number of competitors that are making branded systems that run third-party OSes can offer differentiation among themselves. Still, company executives said that they’ll meet whatever requests the customer has.
“We don’t have religion long-term where this plays out,” Robbins said.
HP’s Carroll said he looked around the industry at other network operating systems, but didn’t see anything that addresses all the needs of the modern data center, from scalability to flexibility.
“We need to give something that scales,” he said. “Otherwise, we’re not really putting something out there that is not already there today.”
That ability to scale is generating some attention outside of the initial target audience of enterprises, with hyperscale players showing interest, Carroll said. Companies like Facebook and Google have been developing their own hardware and software—including operating systems—to meet the needs of the Web-scale environments.
“The only reason they are in the [NOS] business is that they have to be,” he said. “They’re not interested in doing their own operating system across the board. They’d rather have somebody else do it.”
The OpenSwitch NOS will include full support for Layer 2/3 protocols, an open-source cloud database for persistent and ephemeral configuration, with all intermodule communications going through the system database and a universal API approach, with support for CLI, REST, Puppet/Chef and Ansible.
Carroll said that as the OpenSwitch NOS is developed, HP will continue to offer Cumulus and Pica8 on its Altoline switches. He also said that HP eventually will look for a permanent home for the community.
“We’re looking where it can land in the future,” he said. “We have no interest in controlling it beyond being a contributing member. A large contributing member, but just another member.”
The OpenSwitch Community is up and running now, and the first developer release of the NOS will come out in the first half of 2016, Carroll said, adding that he expects deployments in the second half of the year.