Facebook, NTT and Big Switch plan on Friday to demonstrate a combination of open source software that can be used to run a working networking switch -- a step forward in creating open source alternatives to proprietary networking hardware and software.
"Open network computing has been a bunch of disparate components. This is the first time we've seen these components integrated into a switch OS that end users can download and use out of the box," Big Switch Networks co-founder Kyle Forster tells Light Reading.
Specifically, the three companies will demonstrate a Facebook Wedge switch running Big Switch's open source Open Network Linux combined with three forwarding agents: Facebook 's FBOSS, NTT Communications Corp. (NYSE: NTT)'s L3 Routing, and Big Switch's own distribution of OpenFlow. (See Big Switch, Facebook, NTT Demo Integrated Open Source Networking Stack.)
The three companies will demonstrate the combination at the Open Compute Project Engineering Workshop event scheduled for Friday in Boston.
The Open Compute Project was founded four years ago, led by Facebook. Its mission is developing open source designs for networking, servers, storage, hardware management, power supplies, chassis and more. Members now include HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ), Dell Technologies (Nasdaq: DELL), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) (See Open Compute Project Hits Critical Mass.)
Facebook has aggressively adopted open source hardware and software designs in its five data centers. It has its own open switch Wedge switch design, and 6-pack, a modular switch that uses Wedge as its basic building block. Facebook claims to have saved $2 billion in capex and opex on data center costs over the past three years with its data center design changes, including using open source technology. (See Facebook Reinvents Data Center Networking, Facebook Releases Data Center Tech, and Facebook Opening Wind-Powered Data Center .)
A traditional switch operating system ships as "one big blob," but the Open Network Linux architecture splits the software into components, Forster says. The operating system manages the switch itself, including memory, CPU, front panel ports and LEDs and storage. Separate forwarding agents drive packets.
The architecture allows network operators to use Open Network Linux with their forwarding agent of choice. "We can use the Open Network Linux for the platform level code and plug in whatever forwarding agent you desire," Forster says. Facebook has open sourced its FBOSS forwarding agent, while Google treats its as a proprietary trade secret, Forster says. (See Google: 'Great' Data Center Networks Essential.)
Open source hardware and software has the potential to reshape networking the way Linux and other open source reshaped computing. But it's the early days of a very long journey -- part of the transition to New IP networking.
Cultural barriers will prove enormous in the transition to open source hardware and software. Network operators are accustomed to having suppliers build and maintain hardware and software products. For operators to take charge of their own networks will involve taking software and hardware development skills in house, or working with a new class of partners that can manage those responsibilities in conjunction with operators.