Opening up at OCP Summit

Dell, Cumulus and Big Switch look to unlock switches and software

Lots of networking activity at this week’s Open Compute Project Summit as vendors develop specifications designed to further abstract the dependencies of hardware and software.

Dell submitted to OCP a Switch Abstraction Interface (SAI) designed to enable a common language between vendor network operating systems and switch silicon. The submission is currently under review and Dell expects acceptance.

SAI is an API to express switch abstractions. With it, third-party developers can build applications to help customers tailor their network equipment to meet certain infrastructure requirements, Dell says.

Prior to SAI, each NOS had to write to the unique conversion code for each networking silicon.

Dell also says SAI will help the web-scale companies and cloud providers take advantage of the latest silicon technology by enabling them to program switches with more granularity. And SAI will help silicon vendors address broader markets.

Dell partner Cumulus Networks also contributed to OCP what it claims is a new industry standard for networking hardware and operating system integration. Cumulus has extended the Advanced Configuration and Power Interface, a standard for OS integration with servers, laptops and desktop computers, to now support NOS integration with bare metal switches.

The resulting ACPI Platform Description, or APD, allows hardware providers to more easily integrate network OSes, Cumulus says. It may also accelerate the adoption of bare metal switches, thereby providing a broader range of design choice for customers, the company says.

Cumulus last year contributed the Open Network Install Environment (ONIE) to OCP to simplify OS loading. APD will work with ONIE to simplify OS integration.

Hardware vendors use APD to describe each platform to the NOS in a standard, machine-readable language. APD documentation and generic drivers will be contributed to the Linux kernel to give NOS vendors the opportunity to speed time to market with hardware platforms.

Concurrent with APD, Cumulus announced an Open Hardware program to accelerate go-to-market collaboration. Dell is an initial partner in the program, as is HP, which recently announced its collaboration with Cumulus to disaggregate HP switch hardware from NOS software.

Another OCP submission, which has been accepted, is Open Network Linux from Big Switch Networks. ONL is a Linux-based open source NOS to bare-metal and branded white-box switches, and it will be OCP’s reference NOS.

Big Switch Networks’ contribution is the Linux distribution for bare-metal switches that runs underneath Big Switch’s commercial Switch Light OS. ONL is intended to give people deploying OCP switches a simplified experience with a standard Linux distribution that comes prepackaged with all of the relevant drivers and loaders.

ONL currently supports 12 different switch hardware platforms and basic L3 routing, and also has an OpenFlow agent. Among the ONL contributors are Accton Technology Corporation, Interface Masters Technologies, Pica8, and Quanta Cloud Technology, as well as academics and individual open source enthusiasts. Cumulus is also a contributor.

ONL can be installed on any bare-metal hardware that supports ONIE.

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