Ahead of the much anticipated 2018 Open Networking Summit, we spoke to Jeff Baher, director of marketing for networking at Dell EMC, about what lies ahead for open networking in the data center and beyond.
“For all that time that the client server world was gaining steam in decoupling hardware and software, networking was always in its own almost mainframe-like world, where the hardware and software were inextricably tied,” Baher explained. “Fast forward to today and there exists a critical need to usher networking into the modern world, like its server brethren, , where independent decisions around hardware and software are made.”
Indeed, the decoupling is well on its way as is the expected rise of independent open network software vendors, such as Cumulus, Big Switch, IP Infusion, and Pluribus, that are shaping a rapidly evolving ecosystem. Baher describes the progress in the industry thus far as Open Networking ‘1.0’, proving out the model successfully of decoupling networking hardware and software. And with this, the industry is forging ahead taking open networking to next level.
Here are the insights Baher shared with us about where open networking is headed.
Linux.com: You refer to an industry shift around open networking, tell us about the shift that Dell EMC is talking about at ONS this year.
Jeff Baher: Well, to date we and our partners have been working hard prove out the viability of the basic premise of open networking, disaggregating or decoupling networking hardware and software to drive an increase in customer choice and capability. This first phase, or as we say Open Networking 1.0, is four years in the making, and I would say it has been a resounding success. There is clear-cut market fit here as we’ve witnessed both significant innovation and investment. And the industry is not standing still, as it moves quickly to its 2.0 version. In this next version, the focus is shifting from decoupling the basic elements of hardware and software, to a focus on disaggregating the software stack itself.
Disaggregating the software stack involves exposing the software for silicon adaption and abstraction, and the system software for platform abstraction. This level of disaggregation also assumes a decoupling of the network application (i.e., routing or switching) from the platform operating system (the software that makes lights blink and fans spin). In this manner, with all the software functional elements exposed and disaggregated, independent software decisions can be made and development communities can form.
Linux.com: Why do people want this level of disaggregation?
Baher: Ultimately, it’s about control. With traditional networking systems, there’s typically a lot of code that isn’t necessarily always used. By moving to this new model predicated on disaggregated software elements, users can scale back that unused code and run a highly optimized OS and application allowing them to get peak performance. And this can all be done independent of the underlying silicon, allowing user to be able to make independent decisions around silicon technology and software adaptation.
All of this, of course, is geared for a fairly savvy network department with most likely a large-scale operation to contend with. For the vast majority of IT shops, they won’t want to “crack the hood” of the network stack and disaggregate pieces. Instead, they will look for pre-packaged offerings derived from these larger “early adopter” experiences. For the larger early adopters, however, there can be virtually an immediate payback by customizing the networking stack, making any operational or technical hurdles well worth it. These early adopters typically already live in a disaggregated world and hence will feel comfortable mixing and matching hardware, OS layers, and protocols to optimize their network infrastructure.
And it is worth noting the prominent role that open source technologies play in disaggregating the networking software stack. In fact, many would contend that open source technologies are foundational and critical to how this happens. This adds in a community aspect to innovation, arguably accelerating its pace along the way. Which brings back full circle to why people want this level of disaggregation – to have more control over how networking software is architected and written, and how networks are run.
Linux.com: How does the disaggregation of the networking stack help fuel innovation in other areas, for example edge computing and IoT?
Baher: Edge computing is interesting as it really is the confluence of compute and networking. For some, it may look like a distributed data center, a few large hyperscale data centers with spokes out to the edge for IoT, 5G and other services. Each edge element is different in capability, form factor, and operating models. And when viewed through a compute lens, it will be assumed to be inherently a disaggregated edge. In other words, hardware elements that are open, standards-based and without any software dependencies. And software for the IoT, 5G and enterprise edge that is also open and disaggregated such that it can be right-sized and optimized for the specific edge task. So if anything, I would say a disaggregated networking stack is a critical first step for enabling the next-generation edge.
We’re seeing that for sure with mobile operators as they look to NFV solutions for their 5G edge. We’re also seeing this at the enterprise edge, in particular with universal CPE (uCPE) solutions. Unlike previous generations where the enterprise edge meant a proprietary piece of hardware and monolithic software, it is now rapidly transforming into a compute-oriented open model where networking functions are selected as need. All of this is made possible by disaggregating the networking applications from the underlying operating system. A ‘not so big a deal’ thing if you come from server land, monumental if you come from networking land. Exciting times once again in the world of open networking!
This article was sponsored by Dell EMC and written by Linux.com.
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