Embracing disaggregated software stacks: Why open networks are the future

Date: Thu, 01/31/2019 - 13:11

“Network disaggregation is cool.” So wrote Andrew Lerner of Gartner back in 2014 – and network disaggregation is even cooler today
Embracing disaggregated software stacks: Why open networks are the future

Mansour Karam, CEO and founder of Silicon Valley startup Apstra

Image credited to NetEvents

Disaggregation is when network hardware and software aren’t required to be from the same vendor – you can run one company’s switch or router hardware, but use software from another vendor (or an open-source project) to operate that switch or router.
“Disaggregated networks is really the idea of being able to separate the control plane from the data plane in networking,” says Brandon Butler, Senior Research Analyst at IDC. “In a networking stack, you have a data plane that forwards packets within the network, and a control plane thatdetermines where those packets should be going.”
Butler continues, “When you disaggregate those two things, and you have a data plane and a control plane that are managed separately, that's disaggregating the network stack. At least, that's the way I think about it.”
What Dell EMC defines as disaggregation is really two-fold, explains Tom Burns, Senior Vice President, Dell EMC Networking Solutions. “The first is what we did approximately four years ago, where we disaggregated the hardware and software, in other words enabling the companies the capability to run various types of network operating software on their infrastructure. Dell takes care of the infrastructure and builds it best-of-breed using commodity hardware and third-party ASICs, some of our own intelligent IP built into that. So, that's the first part of disaggregation, is that you don't have to have this lock-in between the hardware and software. ”
The second point? “That’s actually the disaggregation of the software itself,” says Burns. “I've said many times that customers are paying for this proprietary stack, and in this stack there's hundreds of protocols that have been built up in the networking industry over the last 25. Customers are only using a tenth of those particular protocols, so why are they paying for them? We see more and more of the capability to disaggregate the software stack to allow customers to run those particular features, or protocols, or even open source software, that allows them again to run their applications and run their infrastructure in the best way that they need to.”

Freedom to Choose and Reject OINO
Disaggregation gives switch and router customers more choice – just as they can choose to run Linux or Windows on the servers, and decide separately whether to run that operating system on HP Enterprise or Lenovo servers. By disaggregating the software stacks in the network, new players can more easily enter the market, customers can avoid lock-in, and prices can drop. On the flip side, vendors lose margin on hardware, software, and support, and this might spur a race-to-the-bottom that hurts investment in R&D, and slows innovation.
Although there are pros and cons for disaggregation, there’s no doubt that it creates new opportunities, such as for improving automation and reducing operating expenses across multi-vendor networks. Disaggregation only works when there are open standards, and means open APIs, points out Mansour Karam, CEO and founder of Silicon Valley startup Apstra.
“You can't automate an infrastructure that is not programmable, and therefore the critical piece here is for devices to have open APIs,” says Karam. “That's the foundation. That's the starting point.
Those open APIs are critical, insists Kevin Deierling, Vice President of optical computing innovator Mellanox Technologies. “One of the things you have to be concerned with is an OINO platform, which is open in name only. You have to have standards.”
What's different now is that it doesn't have to be an IEEE or an IETF standard, says Deierling. “We see things like the OCP [the Open Compute Project] that standardize SAI, which is the switch abstraction interface that allows us to build different operating systems on top of that. We see ONIE [the Open Network Install Environment], which also came out of the OCP organization, that lets you boot different operating systems. Now the market is going to drive that.”
“The market is embracing that,” Deierling continues, “and the customers are saying, I want that choice of hardware and software. So, we need to build the APIs, we need to standardize on those, and then the market will force people to actually embrace real open platforms, and not just these OINO platforms.”
“The benefits to customers is choice,” adds Apstra’s Karam. “Customers can choose the best-of-breed elements at every one of those layers, or they can decide to choose the cheapest, or the most cost-effective, options. It becomes really their choice of how they want to build their networks, which will drive efficiencies, costs, and really tailor the infrastructure to their applications.”
The drive to disaggregation is coming from customers, who increasingly embrace the concept and choosing open source, says Dell’s Burns. “We see that more, not just in the web scale companies, but also in large enterprises, universities, particular sectors or vertical markets that are embracing this disaggregation and are looking to unlock themselves from proprietary hardware and software.”
That’s a cautionary note, Burns adds: “The industry, OEMs in the networking space, the silicon providers, and so forth, need to also embrace it. We need to recognize that this is what's best for our customers, to take advantage of what's happening with the technology to enable new services and new capabilities in their environment.”

Few Drawbacks to Disaggregation
What can go wrong? Will the big innovators stop innovating if their margins are cut – or if enterprise customers choose to adopt open-source software instead of licensing expensive networking software stacks? That didn’t seem to worry these industry experts.
“The only drawback that you might see with openness is that you have to choose wisely, both the hardware and the software,” says Mellanox’s Deierling. “However, because you're not locked in to a specific vendor, you can be more agile. So, even if you make the wrong decision initially, you can correct very, very quickly. That's part of the agility that you're gaining.”
Deierling points out that, “If you choose a vendor, and for whatever reason that vendor doesn't execute, or they shift directions and go off on another tangent, you're actually able to move your operating system to another platform. So, if you make the wrong decision, you can very quickly get on to a new good direction with an open platform.”
Apstra’s Karam has a different concern. “The challenge with open networking is that if done wrong, choice could imply complexity. That's where having one throat to choke, vendors that can come in and enable choice while reducing the risk by supporting the entire solution including the choice of components, that becomes important.”

Open Networking Is Here to Stay
“Open networking is still in the early stages at this point,” observes IDC’s Butler. “We are seeing, particularly on the upper end of the network from hyperscalers and big service providers, that they've been embracing open networking because they're able to optimize the infrastructure and the software running on top to their specific needs. When you're able to do that, you can gain tremendous efficiencies in your networking stack.”
Burns from Dell sees open networking happening today. “Companies are embracing this, such as Mellanox, Cumulus, BigSwitch, Dell EMC — we've heard from many others — and customers such as Microsoft. We’ve heard stories about AT&T and what they're doing with creating their own NOS in their environment, and switching all of their 60,000-plusrouters with white box switches.”
“I think over the next four years, the disaggregation of hardware and software is going to evolve to this disaggregation of software from the core to the campus, all the way to the edge, and even in datacenter interconnectivity,” Burns adds.
Apstra’s Karam concluded, “Open networking is the future. We've seen the trend start with the largest hyperscalers. We've seen the trend start with the newer vendors that were promoting this openness. Now, every organization out there is asking for open networking, and every vendor, including the established vendors, are jumping on the bandwagon. So, it's here to stay, and it's the future.”
And, in the words of Gartner’s Andrew Lerner, network disaggregation really is cool.

To see the video, please visit:

valorar este articulo:
Your rating: None

Post new comment

Datos Comentario
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
Datos Comentario
Datos Comentario