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Summary:

The Facebook-led Open Compute Project is set to vote on four new specifications that would make open source networking switches and OS software a reality in the near future.

Six months ago, the Facebook-led Open Compute Project shared its plans to work with networking vendors on creating an open source top-of-rack switch, and now that mission is almost complete. According to a blog post by Frank Frankovsky, chairman and president of the Open Compute Project and VP of hardware design and supply chain operations at Facebook, the organization is set to vote on and likely approve four specifications soon.

The idea of creating an open source switch is a natural expansion of the OCP’s original mission of creating open source servers and its subsequent evolution into open source storage-system designs. The organization’s members — Facebook probably chief among them — want to see gear that’s designed to handle the physical realities of a webscale data center (e.g., around power and density) but also that lets them innovate however they see fit on the software side. If they’re buying into software-defined networking, for example, they don’t want to buy into their switch vendor’s approach to that technology by default.

As Gigaom’s Stacey Higginbotham noted in May while covering the announcement of the open switch effort, the networking layer is arguably the last bastion of proprietary dominance in the data center. “These proprietary OSes … are one of the reasons that companies are locked into one networking gear provider. They are also stuck using proprietary code to make changes,” she wrote.

Frankovsky highlights four proposed specifications in his blog post — three for top-of-rack switches by Broadcom, Intel and Mellanox, and a contribution by Cumulus Networks of its Open Network Install Environment. “Broadcom was the first to develop a full specification for and implementation of an open switch,” he notes. The Cumulus contribution could be interesting because it would allow users to decide their choice of operating systems and hardware and install new software as needed.

Frank Frankovsky of Facebook holding an Applied Micro board.

Frank Frankovsky of Facebook holding an Applied Micro board designed to OCP specs. Source: Stacey Higginbotham

The Open Compute Project was quick to make a splash in a server industry already under fire from trends including virtualization, cloud computing, and the fact that mega-buyers such as Facebook, Google and Amazon often prefer to build their own gear or buy stripped-down, low-margin boxes from vendors. The networking industry hasn’t been suffering quite the same level of disruption, although the SDN craze (and related efforts such as OpenFlow) has forced vendors to rethink their strategies (and Google, at least, is building its own switches).

We’ll see how quickly and strongly the networking giants such as Cisco and Juniper are forced to react to the promise of open source switches and software, or if they’ll have to at all.

For more on Facebook’s network infrastrucutre plans as a whole, check out this interview with Facebook’s Jay Parikh and Najam Ahmad from Structure 2013.

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock user macka.

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  1. The Cisco’s of the world are ripe for disruption. Networking is the mainframe of the data center and I would love to see it go the way of DEC.

  2. When we will see open-source processor? And I hope the open-source hardware will become widely available on market

  3. Networking devices are expensive and are very opaque, but the vendors really have you cornered because it’s such a critical aspect of infrastructure you really don’t want it to go wrong and have no help available – the downside of open source.

    With big company names behind these devices though, it’ll be interesting to see whether this pushes adoption. Open source hardware running open source software is appealing to many in the tech community, and if it can be supported by respected names then that helps make the business case.

    1. pfSense is my goto open-source solution for routing now – can’t wait for an open-source switch solution to be available

  4. Please consider to work with ubnt too. They are good in networking and price is good

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