Data Center Infrastructure

Dell Sets Stage for Software-Defined Data Center

SAN FRANCISCO -- Dell today introduced a new version of its Linux-based network operating system, designed to enable convergence of networking, compute and storage into a single platform, to simplify data center management.

Additionally, Operating System 10 uses standard APIs to provide flexible choices for both switch hardware below the operating system level and networking applications above.

The OS10 Base Module, based on an unmodified Linux distribution, is available at no additional cost to customers who buy Dell switches, the company says. The Base Module has a southbound interface based on the Open Compute Project Switch Abstraction Interface (SAI), which facilitates fine, programmatic control of switch hardware for network operators. (See Open Compute Project Hits Critical Mass and Facebook Releases Data Center Tech.)

Mr Burns
Tom Burns, VP and general manager, Dell networking and enterprise infrastructure
Tom Burns, VP and general manager, Dell networking and enterprise infrastructure

Moreover, the SAI, developed by the Open Compute Project in conjunction with Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) and Mellanox Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: MLNX), will make it easier for Dell to change networking chips as better-performing silicon becomes available, said Tom Burns, VP and general manager of Dell networking and enterprise infrastructure, in a press conference Tuesday.

On top of the Base Module, OS10 supports traditional Layer 2 and Layer 3 protocols and networking functions and applications from Dell. OS10 also runs third-party, native Linux, and open source applications such as IP, fabric and security services, as well as management and automation tools.

The Base Module will ship in March and Dell's application modules will enter beta testing later in the year.

Dell offers Linux-based networking software from partners including Cumulus Networks , Big Switch Networks , IP Infusion Inc. and Pluribus Networks . The OS10 software doesn't threaten those partnerships, Burns said. The partner software provides specialization appealing to specific use cases. For example, Big Switch offers products specialized for network monitoring and cloud, while Cumulus appeals to operators with sophisticated Linux programming needs.

And Dell customers who choose Cumulus and other partner software can later run that software on other vendors' switches, notes Dan Conde, analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group. OS10 doesn't support non-Dell hardware (at least not yet).

Dell is open to the possibility of running OS10 on non-Dell hardware. "Today, OS10 will come with Dell networking. Who knows what the future will hold?" Burns said.

In the long term, Dell is looking to move networking, compute and storage onto a common platform, for simplified management, Burns said.

"Our vision is a compute-centric software defined data center, moving configuration and management to the software level rather than in individual silos of servers, storage and networking," Burns said,

The standardized interface and modular architecture are designed to help network operators save on capex and opex by simplifying network management, Burns said. Simplified management is an essential ingredient for New IP networks.

Dell is one of several vendors looking to build on an enterprise foundation to expand into service provider networking. Hewlett Packard Enterprise is following a similar approach, although HPE stumbled recently with its marquee Telefónica contract. (See Telefónica Ditches HPE as Virtualization Lead and HPE Will 'Continue to Work With Telefónica' on Unica.)

Similarly, VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW) is looking to build on its strength in enterprise virtualization to win service provider network customers. Like Dell, VMware uses the phrase "software defined data center" to describe its strategy.

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Dell and VMware will get closer as Dell plans to acquire EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), which has a controlling interest in VMware. (See Dell Buys EMC for $67B in Biggest Tech Deal Ever and Dell-EMC-VMware Merger Could Push Comms to Kids' Table.)

Meanwhile, Cisco is going in the other direction -- already a networking powerhouse, its recent partnership with Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) builds its service provider strength. And Cisco's data center server business is growing fast. (See Cisco & Ericsson Forge Killer Partnership and What's the Deal Behind 'Ciscosson'?)

Dell's OS10 announcement this week is similar to Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR)'s November announcement that it's disaggregating its Junos operating system from its underlying hardware, Conde notes. Juniper is licensing its software independently from hardware and -- as with Dell's announcement Tuesday -- creating the potential for running its operating system on other switch hardware at some future date. (See Juniper Bets Big on White Box & NFV.)

— Mitch Wagner, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profileFollow me on Facebook, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading. Got a tip about SDN or NFV? Send it to [email protected]

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