6:20 PM -- LOS ANGELES -- OSA Executive Forum -- What if you could replace commodity switches or routers with something even more commodity: plain old servers?
It's something I'd talked about with Netronome Systems Inc. CEO Niel Viljoen a few months ago, and he described the idea again during a panel at Monday's Executive Forum. The idea sounds radical, like something Google would do, but he's got a compelling argument.
You'll recall that Netronome took over the high end of the Intel network processor business. (See Netronome Reigniting Intel's IXP.) The idea here is that clusters of servers could be outfitted with network interface cards based on those processors; the NICs would go where the disk drives normally sit.
Add some easily available software -- including, possibly, routing and control software from the open-source OpenFlow project -- and boom: you've got an inexpensive block of forwarding power.
The target is the data center, a beast that's getting bigger and hungrier as cloud-based applications start to take hold. Netronome sees potential there, especially as its network processors grow to 200Gbit/s and 400Gbit/s sizes, Viljoen tells me. (Those numbers represent processing ability; don't confuse it with 100Gbit/s optical connections.)
Vividh Siddha, vice president of engineering at IP Infusion Inc., tells me he's heard some chatter about using this idea in telecom as well, in LTE mesh networks.
I don't yet know what the Ethernet switch vendors think of this, but I don't think it would surprise them. All along, I've assumed that the low end of the switch/router business would be eaten up by commodity vendors, probably largely from Asia. Cisco talked about this openly a few years ago. (See Chinese Competitors Chew at Cisco.)
This takes the idea a step further. And while I like the thought of it being a DIY movement, it's likely that some outside company would start offering these kinds of forwarding clusters. Based on Siddha's description, it sounds like a startup in Palo Alto, Calif., called Nicira Networks Inc., is working along those lines. This could be an idea worth keeping tabs on.
— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading