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Small Steps Toward Open Networking

Friday Dec 7th 2018 by Arthur Cole

Several organizations have recently taken steps to make open networking more attractive to companies of all sizes.

The more the enterprise moves toward abstract, software-defined networking, the more it is motivated to implement new infrastructure on open platforms.

But while open source is often highly flexible and expandable, it is not necessarily easy to work with. Organizations without the in-house expertise to customize their own environments often find that the savings gained from white-box hardware are often lost to increased management and integration challenges.

Open networking also suffers from a lack of a clear product roadmap. Single vendor solutions are often unveiled to great fanfare, with copious amounts of analysis as to what it all means and how organizations will benefit, while open systems are released with little notice and are usually targeted to highly specific use cases or legacy environments. 

To help rectify that situation, here are some of the more noteworthy developments in open networking in recent days.

Pluribus and Edgecore

The two companies have agreed to expand their partnership by increasing the number of Edgecore switches that support the Netvisor ONE OS and Adaptive Cloud Fabric. The software is now available on select Edgecore 25 GbE and 100 GbE switches, including the AS7312-54XS and the AS7712-32X, giving enterprises the ability to drive wider leaf-spine architectures into single- and multi-cloud ecosystems. In this way, organizations will be better able to support automated SDN environments and 5G traffic coming from wireless infrastructure.

Pica8 and Dell EMC

Pica8 has ported its PICOS software to Dell EMC’s N3K series of open switches, a move the company says will allow organizations to deploy Fortune 1000-class enterprise features on campus and branch access networks. The move targets the 24-port N3024-ON and 48-port N3048-ON switches, as well as the N3132PX-ON 2.5/5 multigig switch, to provide a full access-edge replacement solution for large enterprises. The company says this not only reduces the cost and complexity of Layer 2/3 networking, but provides granular security, visibility and policy enforcement by implementing the Open Intent-Based Networking (OIBN) solution on every port.

ONAP Casablanca

The Open Network Automation Platform has released the Casablanca update that strives for more widespread deployment across carrier infrastructure, virtual architectures, and vendor products and projects. The Linux Foundation’s Arpit Joshipura told Light Reading that this should allow the platform to reduce its dependency on core members like AT&T and Huawei, primarily by easing up on the documentation for new implementations. The platform has also increased its support for physical network functions (PNFs) to reflect the enterprise’s continued reliance on hybrid architectures.

Barefoot’s Tofino 2

Openness on the ASIC level is one of the ways programmable switching will enter the mainstream, according to The Next Platform’s Timothy Prickett Morgan. Barefoot Networks’ new Tofino 2 Ethernet switch is aimed squarely at the community emerging around the P4 programming language by providing networks with the same kind of openness and programmability found in x86 servers. Part of that drive is to show that programmable devices can deliver the same or better performance on key functions like throughput, bandwidth, cost and power. 

Given the way enterprise networks are starting to traverse a wide range of local and long-haul infrastructure, some degree of interoperability will be required even among proprietary platforms. Open source networking is mostly about finding a less costly, yet highly functional, way to build and maintain network infrastructure, not just for hyperscale giants like Google and Facebook, but for all organizations large and small.

It’s probably too early to say we’ve arrived at this point just yet, but there is no reason to think it cannot happen, provided the open communities themselves don’t lose sight of the common good by falling prey to parochial concerns. 

Arthur Cole is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years’ experience covering Enterprise IT, telecommunications and other hi-tech industries.

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