HP has open sourced a network operating system for data center switches, partnering with a handful of other major vendors in launching a full-fledged open source project that has the potential to become a major disruptor for Cisco, whose proprietary pre-integrated hardware-and-software solutions dominate the data center networking market.
In recent years, HP and other challengers to Cisco’s dominance – companies like Dell, Arista, Juniper, and Brocade – have been moving in the direction of disaggregating network hardware from network software, separating the packet forwarding plane from the control plane. HP, Dell, and Juniper have introduced data center switch lines that gel with other vendors’ operating systems, namely Linux-based ones by Cumulus Networks, Big Switch Networks, and Pica8.
The move to open networking is about giving users more control of the configuration of their networks, as well enabling Software Defined Networking and Network Function Virtualization capabilities.
Cisco has taken a different approach. Instead of opening up its hardware for third-party software, it has introduced Application Centric Infrastructure, its proprietary SDN technology, while also adding support for OpenFlow, the open SDN standard, launching the Cisco Extensible Network Controller, a distribution of the open SDN controller called OpenDaylight, and supporting BGP EVPN, an open protocol for virtual network overlays.
Brocade, whose position in the data center networking market is strong but relatively small in terms of market share, has been an early supporter of open networking technologies. The company’s CEO Lloyd Carney told Data Center Knowledge in a recent interview that, in his opinion, specialized integrated data center networking solutions were well on their way to being replaced by commodity x86 servers where all networking functionality is handled by software.
Vendors Group around Open Source Network OS
HP launched its OpenSwitch NOS (network operating system) as an open source project together with Arista, a network hardware company that has been successful using the disaggregated-network model from the get-go, Broadcom, one of the leading “merchant silicon” vendors, VMware, Intel, and Accton, a Taiwan-based design manufacturer that produces hardware for HP’s open networking switch line called Altoline.
Old Guard IT Giants Embrace Open Source
HP, like other “incumbent” IT vendors, is increasingly embracing open source software. The company has gotten heavily invested in open source cloud projects OpenStack and Cloud Foundry, for example.
This is a change for HP, illustrative of the changes taking place in the IT industry, where major IT suppliers recognize that open source software is something they cannot ignore or fight against. The company went from being one of the first big vendors to legitimize open source when it embraced Linux in the 90s, Brandon Keepers, open source lead at GitHub, told us on the sidelines of the GitHub Universe conference in San Francisco last week. “And then they flipped around and became this really rigid, typical corporate organization,” he said. GitHub hosts the most popular online repository and collaboration platform for open source code.
Full-Featured L2/L3 Network OS
According to HP, OpenSwitch is a full-featured network OS with support for L2 and L3 protocols. The open source project also includes a cloud database for persistent configuration. Its universal API approach ensures support for command line interface, REST, Ansible, Puppet, and Chef.
The OpenSwitch community is already operational, and an initial developer release of OpenSwitch NOS is available for download at www.openswitch.net.