Highlights from OCP Networking Workshop

Friday, March 28, 2014 · Posted by at 8:01 AM

Following the fifth Open Compute Summit earlier this year, a lot of people in the community are excited about the recent progress in the OCP networking project. At the conference, we held a keynote panel, moderated by Facebook’s Najam Ahmad, discussing how to open up network hardware.

We also had nearly 100 people participate during the OCP engineering workshop sessions, with significant hardware and software developments discussed by Mellanox, Broadcom, Cumulus, and Big Switch.

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In this post, I’ll cover some of the highlights from the OCP workshop. But first, for those of you who might be new to OCP or to the networking project, I wanted to provide a little background. 

Background & Motivation

We started the OCP networking project about ten months ago. In the project’s charter, you can see the essence of its mission (my emphasis):

create a set of networking technologies that are disaggregated and fully open, allowing for rapid innovation in the network space

Here’s how we view each of those key tenets:

 - "Disaggregated": In traditional networking, we buy an appliance from a vendor, and that box comes with the software from that same vendor. One of the first goals of the networking project has been to break that apart – to separate the network hardware from the network software – so consumers aren’t locked in to a single solution from a single vendor.

 - "Fully open": This too is rare in the networking world, but we are sowing the seeds of change here. At the hardware level, the designs of the vast majority of devices are closed, but we at least see merchant silicon being leveraged by many companies. At the software level, we see APIs on top of network devices that allow some level of automation, and these sometimes are "open." However, they don't give a low level of access to the underlying forwarding hardware – say, at the ASIC SDK level. Within the project, we are emphasizing the need for publishing the design of working switch hardware as well as opening up software APIs at the network ASIC level.

 - "Rapid Innovation": We believe that, by disaggregating the network hardware and software and by being fully open, we can create an ecosystem of rapid innovation, where best-of-breed software can be written for specific deployment use cases that can fully utilize the open switch hardware. 

Recent Highlights: Working Switches, Working Code

The OCP networking project’s initial focus has been in the datacenter, at the top-of-rack (TOR) switch. Many vendors are already leveraging merchant silicon for their TOR switches, and on the operator side, it's an easy place to try out a new hardware switch, as the failure domain is mostly limited to the servers in the rack.

At the recent OCP Summit and the networking engineering workshop, we had some significant progress both in hardware and software for the TOR switch:

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 - Switch specifications and hardware: Mellanox published the specification for its SwitchX-2 TOR switch as part of the project and showed a spine switch with 36 40GbE QSFP as part of the project.

This joins the specification that Broadcom published late last year for its OCP network switch, and a switch based on the Broadcom spec that is already available from Interface Masters.

The review committee of the project is excited to submit these specifications to the OCP incubation process as the next step.

- Foundational software: Cumulus demoed for the first time their Open Network Install Environment (ONIE) running on an x86-based Interface Masters OCP switch, and that solution is now available for the OCP switch.

Big Switch Networks announced they have contributed a Linux distribution, dubbed Open Network Linux, specifically to allow users to quickly get a Linux environment that has had all the kernel and driver mods to work with these open switches. It is not yet available for the Interface Masters OCP switch, but will be soon.

Forwarding Software for “Software-Agnostic” Switches 

The OCP networking project initially started discussing designs for switches, and progressively we have been moving up into the software for that hardware. The contributions from Cumulus and Big Switch provide a software foundation, but in order for the OCP switch to actually forward packets, we still need forwarding software on top of the hardware switch itself. That brings up more questions that we want to work as a community to answer:

- “What will the forwarding software need to handle? The forwarding software needs to handle traffic from the connected hosts, including control traffic (e.g., ARP, DHCP, and DNS) and the hosts’ actual data traffic. It also needs to be able to interact with the control plane of the surrounding network (e.g., an L2 environment of VLANs and spanning trees, an MPLS-based network, or an L3 routed network) as well as forward data traffic to/from the rest of the network.

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- “Where will it come from?One of our key design goals in the OCP networking project is that the switches should be “software-agnostic.”

For example, the hardware should support forwarding software that is based on either a traditional distributed networking protocol stack or a more “SDN”/centralized model with OpenFlow. Another example is that the hardware should support either open source forwarding software or commercial forwarding software.

Indeed, we envision being able to run many network software packages at once, just like you can run different applications on your servers.

If you're interested in following the activities of the OCP networking project, please check out http://www.opencompute.org/projects/networking -- we'd love to have your help in opening up the network layer.

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The OCP Networking Project members recently met at the OCP Engineering Workshop in Boston, hosted by Fidelity. It was a full day of vibrant discussions that left us feeling excited and optimistic about what's coming next. As we reflect on work done in the past year, a couple of takeaways stand out:

  • The OCP Networking Project has had a fantastic year in 2015. Thanks to our community members who have contributed specifications, packages, and countless hours of engineering discussion and reviews, we have made great strides across our three priority areas: networking hardware, networking software, and testing.
  • Looking ahead to 2016, our group will expand our vision and priorities. To accomplish our ambitious goals, we welcome newcomers onto our team who want to help us build further toward our vision of a disaggregated and open network on the OCP Networking Project.


Hardware – Mellanox Switches Accepted

Last October, we officially accepted the first OCP switch from Accton. Since then, several other contributions have been officially accepted, including the Alpha Networks 10G switch and 40G switch, and the Accton Open Rack Switch Adapter.

Today, we are happy to announce the acceptance of two new OCP switches from Mellanox, the MSX1410OCP 10G Switch and the MSX1710OCP 40G Switch. Consistent with the OCP philosophy, these two new switches feature complete and open design packages that are available for download. These switches also support a number of OCP software projects such as ONIE and SAI.

What differentiates these switches is that they are the first to feature a different switching silicon: SwitchX-2 by Mellanox. Prior contributions by Accton and Alpha have been based on the Trident2 family by Broadcom. This is an exciting milestone for the OCP Networking Project because we're diversifying our set of open networking hardware on the market.

On a similar theme, Accton also shared the specifications for a Cavium-based 32x100G switch during our OCP Networking Project meeting at the OCP Engineering Workshop. This switch will proceed through the community review process, along with other shared switches from Broadcom/Interface Masters, Facebook, and Inventec.


The OCP Networking Project has been making great progress across our three accepted software projects: ONIE, Open Network Linux (ONL), and SAI:

  • ONIE continues to be adopted across dozens of switch platforms and is also actively being used in the interoperability testing program (more on that below).
  • Open Network Linux was demo’ed on top of the Facebook Wedge switch at the OCP Engineering Workshop and is continuing increased adoption.
  • SAI offered a number of demos throughout the summer across multiple chips (Broadcom, Mellanox, and Cavium). Mellanox showed SAI working on their Spectrum 100G chip. Barefoot also showed their P4-based SAI test framework.

During the OCP Networking Project workshop, we also reviewed the HP Open Switch project, which has the potential to introduce an open Network Operating System that can run on OCP hardware switches. We held an open discussion about how this project fits into our software model for the OCP Networking Project. Broadcom also presented an overview of how OpenNSL and their Broadview monitoring software is being actively used in the HP Open Switch.


We started testing initiatives in earnest within the OCP Networking Project this year, which includes the recent strides from our partnership with the UNH Interoperability Lab. The OCP Networking Project can test complete solutions—including the system, optics, and software—to better understand how they meet our specifications and performance standards. The results and collaborative findings from the testing phase, including the actual test equipment configuration, are available for the public to review.

Looking ahead to 2016 – Faster, Higher, Broader

Looking ahead to 2016, we're excited to expand our portfolio of work by focusing on the following:

  • Faster Hardware – We want to continue the growth momentum we're seeing now, and expect more in 2016. We will continue to introduce faster switch speeds, as well as creating faster adoption of OCP switches by growing our community of OCP Networking Project members.
  • Building Beyond Lower Level Software Layers – Up until now, we’ve focused on the lower-layer building blocks of software: ONIE, Open Network Linux, and SAI. Now that we have a stable foundation in place, we can start to focus on the layers higher up the stack, including full NOS, orchestration/provisioning/automation, and monitoring.
  • Broader Testing – While we're focused on disaggregating and opening up networking on the OCP Networking Project team, we plan to focus more on the integration process so the community can more easily piece those disaggregated components back together. Expect more interoperability testing with more OCP hardware and software, along with non-OCP networking gear.

Thanks again for a great 2015, and we're looking forward to 2016!

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