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Open Compute Project takes on switches and networking

High-end open switches for huge businesses could be on their way.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Facebook's two-year old Open Compute Project (OCP) first tackled datacentre servers, motherboards and power supply, and now has designs on networking with an open switch.

With networking OEMs struggling to build switches that meet datacentre needs for companies at the scale of Facebook or Google, such businesses are now sourcing their gear direct from Asian manufacturers that would otherwise supply traditional OEMs. 

Google went with the OpenFlow networking protocol to revamp its networks and has even built its own Pluto Switch, apparently based on a Broadcom 10Gb ethernet switch design. Meanwhile, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft have also reportedly been buying their own white-box networking kit from Asian suppliers.

While this allowed giants to bypass the OEMs for some networking equipment, the OCP's next phase of development appears to be doing what Google did with Pluto, but with a bit of crowdsourced help and the aim of letting others benefit too.

OCP will get support from pioneers in software-defined networking (SDN), such as Big Switch Networks and VMware, which owns Nicira. Other early volunteers include Broadcom and Cumulus Networks, a startup run by former Cisco engineer and Googler JR Rivers, as well as the Linux Foundation's SDN project OpenDaylight, and the Open Networking Foundation

The group will take a different approach to the switch than it did with servers and racks, which Facebook led by first releasing a set of specifications for the equipment. Instead, the project's participants will work towards a "specification and a reference box for an open, OS-agnostic top-of-rack switch", according to Facebook's head of IT infrastructure and chairman of OCP, Frank Frankovsky.

Najam Ahmad, who runs the network engineering team at Facebook, will lead the project and work will begin at the OCP's Engineering Summit, being held at MIT on 16 May.

"It's our hope that an open, disaggregated switch will enable a faster pace of innovation in the development of networking hardware; help software-defined networking continue to evolve and flourish; and ultimately provide consumers of these technologies with the freedom they need to build infrastructures that are flexible, scalable, and efficient across the entire stack," said Frankovsky.

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