Next Steps for Open Source Networking

The networking industry continues to see rapid innovation through open source, and an ever-growing set of communities and projects.  If you need evidence, take a quick look at the various sessions covered at this year’s Open Networking Summit.  With this innovation, we also see a fundamental shift in the way that networks are procured, architected and operated by our customers.

Form Follows Function

For the better part of the past 20 years, the Network Administrator/Engineer was responsible for all things related to the network – from the lowest level of silicon running in a switch, up through the network operating systems (NOS), and into the highest level of orchestration and automation of the overall network. As open source projects disaggregate that networking stack, the operational model is evolving as well – much of it driven by a shift to DevOps.

In this DevOps-centric model, the decisions made at the hardware, operating system, networking stack, and orchestration levels become distinct and de-coupled from one another.  Given that “form follows function” the operational model in supporting networking is becoming distinct as well.

Which poses a couple of interesting questions:

  • How are the support models of networking evolving to keep pace with the architectural and operational shifts?
  • Within these new support models, how are elements of that stack based upon open source (in particular the NOS) incorporated?

Step One: De-Coupling Hardware and Software

At the lowest level of the networking stack we have physical switching hardware and the operating system that runs on top of that.

More than four years ago, Dell EMC allowed for any of its networking switches with an ‘-ON’ suffix to be purchased without an operating system.

This was all made possible via the work of the ONIE effort within the Open Compute Project, and Dell EMC evolving its ProSupport offerings to include a hardware-only option, that allows for diagnostic and remediation of any hardware issue, independent of the NOS running on it.

Step Two: Credible Support for Open Source NOS

In terms of open source NOS projects in the industry today, Dell EMC has invested heavily in two of them: OpenSwitch and SONiC.  A key reason these two programs moved to the top of our list was their common approach to interfacing to the underlying network processing units via SAI.  This provides us with a common framework upon which we can incorporate a broad cross-section of the merchant silicon ecosystem, and ultimately providing our customers with maximum choice.

For customers interested in running either of these open source NOS solutions, our support for them begins with a list of certified Dell EMC platforms upon which specific versions of OpenSwitch and SONiC have been validated; with the added peace of mind provided by a credible vendor offering a class-leading global support model.

To that end, Dell EMC took that first step with its OS10 Open Edition offering.  For customers interested in running OpenSwitch on Dell EMC networking hardware, we offer a combined hardware and NOS support model in the form of OS10 Open Edition. Customers can embrace disaggregation and open source with minimum risk.  A recent presentation by Rick Davis from Verizon Connect at this year’s Open Networking Summit; provides credible evidence that open source networking can indeed power mission-critical, industrial solutions.

We’ve Only Just Begun

Dell EMC pioneered a new way to design, obtain, and operate networks and we recently announced that we are moving Open Networking forward by enabling the next level of disaggregation and modularity through composite, expandable network stacks or “composable networks.” We believe this will be the next defining moment for Open Networking.

About the Author: Dell Technologies