Facebook to design an open source switch

The aim is to quicken the pace of networking hardware innovation

As part of the Open Compute Project (OCP), Facebook's network engineering team is leading a project to develop an open source networking switch.

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"It's our hope that an open, disaggregated switch will enable a faster pace of innovation in the development of networking hardware," wrote Frank Frankovsky in a blog post announcing the project. Frankovsky is chairman and president of OCP, as well as Facebook vice president of hardware design and supply chain operations.

Facebook's network engineering team head Najam Ahmad will lead the project, and engineers from Broadcom, Intel, VMware and Cumulus Networks, among others, will participate in the development of the specification.

Facebook announced the project Wednesday at the Interop 2013 conference in Las Vegas. It will formally kick off the project at the first-ever OCP Engineering Summit May 16 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The design will specify how to build a top-of-rack switch that could be used in large data centers, such as Facebook's. Frankovsky admitted that the project is starting with "just an idea and a clean sheet of paper." He did specify the switch will use SDN (software defined networking) technologies, and would be OS agnostic. OCP wants to create specifications that cleanly separate different components -- which Frankovsky calls disaggregation -- so these components can be easily interchangeable and work together seamlessly.

Facebook created OCP two years ago as a way to spur development of more efficient data center technologies. The idea was that users and creators of data center technologies could collaborate to develop hardware designs more to their own liking, which then would be open sourced so any manufacturer could use them to build equipment. OCP, which has attracted over 50 corporate members, has since embarked on designing components such as racks, storage boxes, motherboards and interconnects.

Although no networking switch vendors have yet volunteered to build a switch using OCP's specifications, presumably they will have at least a few ready customers in Facebook and other participants in the project.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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