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The Evolution of Open Hardware

Julia Shih 0

Open is the New Normal

The data center is in a constant state of transition. What was once home for rows upon rows of propriety and often siloed equipment based on closed-architecture designs, the modern day data center is now filled with white box solutions serving various functions but working in a harmonious or converged manner.

Several key factors are driving the change to open hardware – ROI, flexibility and customizability of design, ease of implementation, and the avoidance of vendor lock-in along with the high price-tag it can bring. The rise of white box hardware started with servers and storage, but now a movement towards the adoption of open switches has gained quite a bit of traction.  Open Switches, a product of the Open Compute Project (OCP) movement, is a bare metal switch designed to be open and disaggregated.  The white box model that applied to switching enables users to deploy, monitor, and manage networking alongside servers and storage at a much lower price-point than a traditional network switch.

Scaled Networking Simplified

With a white box switch, the OS layer is decoupled from the hardware itself which allows users to independently select the best-of-breed components and networking software stack for their workload.  With the introduction of x86 architecture on the control plan, users are able to automate and streamline their deployments.  A big draw to open switching is the ability to run bootstrap and DHCP, reducing complexity and enabling a more nimble approach to automated provisioning.

AMAX’s CloudMax Converged Cloud Infrastructure Solution is one example of an industry-embraced product that features open networking. Winner of the Best of VMWorld award for private cloud solutions and the Intel Innovative Server Solution award for best data center product, CloudMax features a total open architecture design from compute and storage built upon traditional white box or OCP (Open Compute) servers, as well as open networking options including Cumulus Linux from Cumulus Networks, which takes out much of the guess work when users make the transition to a white box switch by featuring a robust list of supported switches and technical software support.  Cumulus offers a true Linux network stack that permits users to use familiar tools which are already used on servers, and applies it to networking.  Starting with software release 2.0, Cumulus’ software stack fully supports Broadcom’s Trident II chipset, which in turn, allows for hardware VxLAN offloading.

For the users that favor a more traditional switch CLI, CloudMax offers AMAX Open Networking OS (ONOS), an open switch paired with an OS solution based off of Broadcom’s Fastpath technology, which would be the preferred combination.  Users can benefit from all the bells and whistles open switch has to offer with readily available APIs.  ONOS is capable of handling the same Layer 2 and Layer 3 needs offered by the traditional switch vendors, but allows the users to add features that complement their data center environment.

As the market continues to evolve and the data center footprint expands, more and more companies are looking for ways to gain more efficiency and agility from their data center while controlling costs and maintainability. The major way this movement is taking shape is by switching from proprietary closed-architecture designs, to open architecture based on white box solutions; the other is converging the various functions (i.e. compute, storage and networking) so that all facets of the data center can be streamlined and function and be maintained more or less homogenously. Networking has been the most complex facet of the data center to convert towards the open movement, and 2014 was the first year that open switching was truly considered as a potential market-ready development in a space that is increasingly being taken over by white box solutions.  As more and more companies test the technology and consider implementation, 2015 will be the year to see if open switching is a solution that is truly enterprise-ready.