HP goes after Cisco, Arista with open source OS

Allies with Broadcom, Intel and VMware on OpenSwitch NOS

HP is spearheading multivendor development of an open source network operating system for data centers in an effort to address scale, dynamic operation and vendor independence.

HP is banding together with three other hardware companies and a hypervisor vendor to launch the OpenSwitch Community, which will seek community-like participation in the development of a Linux-based OpenSwitch NOS. The other participants are Intel, Broadcom, Accton and VMware.

Though the community lacks a pure operating system vendor, HP says it has plenty of OS and NOS expertise to lend OpenSwitch credibility in that regard. VMware also provides software-based network virtualization and control experience through its NSX product line and developers.

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The effort is seen as an opportunity for HP to develop and own a viable data center NOS to better compete in that market with the likes of Cisco and Arista. HP very recently announced arrangements with Cumulus Networks and Pica8 to resell or support their respective data center NOSes, but the market is important enough for HP to attempt to develop and own something akin to Arista’s EOS, a modular and extensible switch operating system that is key to the company’s data center networking success.

"HP clearly believes it has a mandate to play as a NOS vendor in network disaggregation," says IDC analyst Brad Casemore. "I expected that we would see other NOS vendors, including a big name or two, get into network disaggregation, but HP wasn’t the first name that came to mind."

Though a potential competitor, Arista views the OpenSwitch effort as an endorsement of its strategy.

“Arista has always embraced merchant silicon and open standards-based networking,” said Jeff Raymond, vice president of EOS Product Management and Services for Arista, in a prepared statement in the HP press release. “We believe the future integration of DevOps and NetOps requires a best-of-breed ecosystem across the cloud stack. We welcome the OpenSwitch initiative as another example of disrupting the legacy models.”

HP and Arista are already collaborating on joint data center accounts where Arista is the preferred network switch supplier.

HP evaluated community-developed open source offerings already available before deciding to develop a new one.

“We didn’t find one that fit the modern architecture and subscription model,” says Mark Carroll, HP Networking CTO. “There wasn’t anything out there” that satisfied HP’s desire for a programmable and scalable OS built on the SysDB model.

Carroll noted Arista’s EOS as the closest OS in the market meeting these requirements but he said OpenSwitch NOS will allow developer access to the source code, rather than just through APIs as most vendor OSes offer.

On the impact of OpenSwitch NOS on HP’s arrangements with Cumulus and Pica8, Carroll said the partnerships will continue even though OpenSwitch NOS will also be an option for HP switch customers.

“We plan to continue the variety of the (NOS) offering” on HP’s new Altoline series of bare metal/white box switches.

Carroll said Cumulus Linux and Pica8’s PicOS address features sets for particular vertical markets and applications, but that OpenSwitch NOS will be integrated across HP’s switch portfolio and facilitate integration with OpenStack clouds.

Pica8 agrees.

“We know what we do is not going to fit every organization,” says Steve Garrison, vice president of marketing. “The goal is to offer customer choice. The market will decide based on the organization and the tool. We’re all pieces on the chess board.”

Cumulus concurs, though is a bit more skeptical of the success of vendor-initiated "open" efforts.

"HP spoke with us about this initiative, and we look at it as another option available for open networking platforms," says JR Rivers, Cumulus CEO.  "With that said, many 'open' efforts that are OEM backed end up as 'pitch and forget' as the sponsoring OEM fights to keep their associated pay-to-play products relevant.  We at Cumulus Networks need to be the best solution for our customers, against all comers."

Rivers adds that Cumulus has not yet seen any slowdown in major account engagement with HP. IDC's Casemore says time will tell if HP rationalizes its various NOS offerings as OpenSwitch evolves.

"For Cumulus and Pica8, I think in the near team, nothing changes," he says. "It’s a matter of different NOSes serving different use cases and market segments. Cumulus Linux appeals to Linux shops where DevOps practitioners want to use common processes and tools to automate across all their data center infrastructure, including their networks. HP wants to be able to serve that market. As for Pica8, HP believes it will appeal to customers more inclined to OpenFlow or to more traditional approaches to networking. Obviously, given its investments in OpenFlow and the VAN Controller, HP wants to serve that market, too. It’s too soon to tell whether either NOS vendor will be sidelined, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re concerned about this development."

HP competitor Juniper Networks also offers a version of its Junos operating system to run on its bare metal/white box switch. Dell offers Cumulus and Big Switch OSes on its switches as well.

HP says traditional networking is based on a closed, proprietary and vertically integrated model that does not allow customers or developers to innovate and tailor networks to meet business needs because there is no community-based access to NOS source code for modification. An open source NOS, the company says, allows developers to engineer networks to prioritize business critical workloads and functions, ease interoperability, and relieve customers of proprietary software licensing structures.

The OpenSwitch NOS will include:

  • Layer 2/3 protocol support;
  • A state driven database for persistent and ephemeral state. The OpenSwitch NOS database will be based on OVSDB, Carroll says;
  • Inter-module communication through system state database;
  • Support for CLI, REST, and Puppet/Chef APIs.

The OpenSwitch Community is operating today. The first developer release of the new OpenSwitch NOS will be available before the first half of 2016, with deployments expected in the second half.

OpenSwitch NOS code will be available on GitHub or through vendors like HP offering certified distributions.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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