Facebook Unveils SDN Switch, Cisco Not Scared

"Wedge" switch and accompanying Linux OS to be proposed as designs for Open Compute Project.

Social media giant Facebook Inc. delved into the networking hardware arena with the introduction of a new, disaggregated, open source switch.

Facebook didn't mention the term "software-defined networking" (SDN) in its announcement, but the move was widely seen as an SDN offering that aligns with the "white box" SDN approach that competes with networking giant Cisco Systems Inc. and its contrasting philosophy.

Key tenets of SDN are disaggregation of components and plain white-box commodity hardware controlled by a management layer, as opposed to "smart" switches coming from Cisco and others that include the routing intelligence in the hardware units themselves.

However, Cisco -- which offers its own new-age networking vision called Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) as an improvement to SDN -- discounted the threat in comments to different media outlets.

The new top-of-rack (TOR) "Wedge" switch was announced last week along with an accompanying Linux OS called "FBOSS." The switch/software offering is part of the Open Compute Project (OCP) released by Facebook in 2011 in order to share technologies it's developing while it creates its own custom-built software, servers and other datacenter components.

The new
[Click on image for larger view.] The New "Wedge" Switch (source: Facebook Inc.)

While not mentioning SDN, Facebook noted, "We're big believers in the value of disaggregation -- of breaking down traditional datacenter technologies into their core components so we can build new systems that are more flexible, more scalable and more efficient."

The switch comes under the OCP's networking subproject, which was announced last year with the comment, "It's our hope that an open, disaggregated switch will enable a faster pace of innovation in the development of networking hardware; help software-defined networking continue to evolve and flourish; and ultimately provide consumers of these technologies with the freedom they need to build infrastructures that are flexible, scalable, and efficient across the entire stack."

Cisco, however, was apparently undaunted. Company executives commented that the open source switch (white box) market appeals only to a small subset of networking customers -- those with huge-scale datacenters -- and comes with many hidden costs.

Also, Cisco said, it has that market covered, even if it is limited. "While the open source switch approach is definitely not for everyone, I want to be very clear that we know this segment of the market (largest Internet players) very well, and we intend to retain and grow these customers by addressing their needs for more programmable infrastructure with our Application Centric Infrastructure strategy," a company spokesman told Barron's.

Facebook said the new switch and OS are in testing right now, with plans to propose them as designs as part of the OCP.

"Unlike with traditional closed-hardware switches, with 'Wedge' anyone can modify or replace any of the components in our design to better meet their needs," Facebook said. "For example, you could use an ARM-based microserver rather than the Intel-based microserver we've selected. Or you could take the electronics and repackage them in a new enclosure, perhaps to solve a different set of problems outside the rack. We're excited to see where the community will take this design in the future."

About the Author

David Ramel is an editor and writer for Converge360.


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