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Facebook to release data center switch spec for Open Compute Project

Facebook announced at Interop that its Open Compute Project will expand its scope to include open designs for top-of-rack data center switches.

LAS VEGAS -- The Open Compute Project, a catalog of open hardware designs for data center equipment written by Facebook engineers, will expand its scope to include a top-of-rack data center switch.

Frank Frankovsky, vice president of hardware design and supply chain operations at Facebook, revealed the Open Compute Project's move into networking during a keynote presentation at Interop 2013. The aim of the project's latest update is to design switches that can run any network operating system and give data center operators the ability to decouple hardware and software in their networks.

"If we don't do something differently now, it is quite possible that the closed and proprietary approach to technology development will be the limiting factor to how we scale the Internet and deliver awesome experiences to people," Frankovsky said.

The Open Compute Project grew out of Facebook’s efforts to custom design and build software, servers and other data center components to deal with the ever-increasing demands placed on its infrastructure. 

We are not going to make wish lists and beg the supplier to make this [technology] for us.
Frank FrankovskyVP at Facebook

Open Compute has produced design specifications for servers and other components that original design manufactures (ODMs) like Quanta have followed to build equipment for Facebook and other Internet giants, enabling them to bypass traditional hardware vendors.  Over the last two years, Facebook has reduced its data center capital expenses by 24% and made its data centers 38% more efficient thanks to "vanity-free servers, software and data centers" that have been less expensive to build and run, Frankovsky said.

The Open Compute Project has expanded beyond its roots as a Facebook project over the last two years. It now includes members like Rackspace, Goldman Sachs and Arista Networks. The community helps data center operators develop energy-efficient servers, as well as more sustainable and cheaper block storage by collaborating with other open source software projects.

 While Open Compute has brought an "open source" hardware approach to servers and storage, the data center switch has been conspicuously left out of the conversation, he said.

"Unfortunately, the [network] hardware and the operating system today are still sold as a black box," Frankovsky said. "If I buy a switch, it comes with an operating system embedded on it."

Facebook wants to extend the Open Compute Project vision to networking by allowing data center managers to treat switches as just another server in a rack. "You should have a bare-metal device with a pre-boot environment and [be able to] download an operating system to it," he said.

What Open Compute's switch means for open networking

The software-defined networking industry has already spawned several open source network operating systems for white-box data center switches, including Flow Forwarding's LINC software and Switch Light from Big Switch Networks. SDN vendors Big Switch and Pica8 have also developed design specifications for ODMs to run open source network software. Open Compute's involvement could push the industry further in the direction of open networking platforms.

Intel, Broadcom, VMware and Big Switch Networks are all joining Open Compute's networking initiative, Frankovsky said. Cumulus Networks, a stealth start-up founded by former Google engineer and Cisco Systems fellow J.R. Rivers is also involved. The Open Networking Foundation and the Open Daylight project will participate, too.

"We design and deliver in the open, and we are going to continue to do that. We are not going to make wish lists and beg the supplier to make this [technology] for us," Frankovksy said. "If the supply base won't build it, we'll build it ourselves."

Open Compute's networking initiative will kick off at the first-ever Open Compute Project Engineering Summit taking place May 16 at MIT in Cambridge, Mass. The initiative will be led by Facebook's network engineering team lead Najam Ahmad.

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