SDN FEATURE NEWS

SDN Zone Week in Review

By Paula Bernier July 05, 2014

An April SDN Zone headline suggests readers can “Become the Next Google or Facebook with SDN”. Now Facebook is revealing more specifics about its strategy on this front with the introduction of Wedge and FBOSS.

Facebook, in its engineering blog, explains it’s been working for three years within the Open Compute Project to break down traditional data center technologies – like racks, servers, storage boxes, and motherboards – into their core components. In 2013 OCP launched a project to develop designs for OS-agnostic top-of-rack switches, an effort to which Broadcom, Intel, Mellanox, and Accton contributed designs for open switches, and Big Switch Networks and Cumulus Networks made software contributions. And this summer Facebook unveiled Wedge, a top-of-rack network switch running a Linux-based operating system called FBOSS.

“One of the big changes we made in designing Wedge,” according to the Facebook blog, “was to give the switch the same power and flexibility as a server. Traditional network switches often use fixed hardware configurations and non-standard control interfaces, limiting the capabilities of the device and complicating deployments. We chose to leverage our existing Group Hug architecture for modular microservers, which enables us to use a wide range of microservers from across the open hardware ecosystem. For our own deployment, we've started with a microserver that we're using elsewhere in our infrastructure. But the open form factor will allow us to use a range of processors, including products from Intel, AMD, or ARM.”

Using a real server module in the switch, the company explains, will enable it to bring switches into it distributed fleet management systems and provision them with our standard Linux-based operating environment. That means it can deploy, monitor, and control the systems alongside its servers and storage. And that equates to less time spent on system management and more resources focused on bringing new capabilities to the network.

Commenting on the FBOSS and Wedge news, Rob Sherwood, CTO of Big Switch Networks, recently blogged: “Facebook is an advertising company on steroids, not a networking vendor. They are not going to make money selling this switch to end customers, so why invest the engineering effort and time to build their own networking stack?

“The answer is for the same reason Google builds their own switches: it is a tacit assertion that the networking infrastructure provided by traditional networking vendors simply does not work for hyperscale networks,” Sherwood writes. “Yes, one result is lower-cost switches, but that’s almost the least important aspect. The primary reason is agility: if you want to deploy new applications and services at the rate that Facebook, Google, et al. do, you need programmatic control of the entire network stack to automatically deploy and test new services. This is critically important because fresh applications, faster time to market, and rapid innovation are the lifeblood of modern companies – especially hyperscale.”

Operational efficiencies, he notes, is the second reason. 

“Working box-by-box at a traditional CLI, there are simply not enough CCIE’s in the world to keep up with the rate of change in hyperscale networks – not to mention the cost of employing them,” he says. “It is a huge resource investment to design, test, and deploy custom hardware and an even bigger one to build the corresponding software stack. But Facebook, Google, and – by rumor – others are all doing this because their traditional network alternatives simply do not work for them.”

In other recent SDN news, Nixu Software announced its elastic data center strategy, which provides a network management and provisioning layer to allow private and public data centers to plug in multiple orchestrators used in connection with cloud, network functions virtualization, and SDN.

"Our revised product strategy is based on the notion that the world is not black and white," said Juha Holkkola, managing director of Nixu Software. "It's impossible for the average data center to forklift everything they have and embrace completely new technologies overnight. Our overlay solution provides data centers with the flexibility to manage existing networks and simultaneously provision prefixes, IP addresses, names and other network parameters to any number of new orchestrated workflows."

Also this week, The Optical Internetworking Forum and the Open Networking Foundation announced a collaboration on Transport Software Defined Networking, which will be demonstrated this year in several carrier-hosted labs.

“We expect SDN, in tandem with NFV, to shape the future of telecommunications networks,” says Vishnu Shukla, of Verizon and OIF president. “It is exciting to have these two prominent groups combining resources, innovative thinking and industry support to put together a very relevant and important demo.”



Executive Editor, TMC

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