Mellanox looks to head off Cisco, Juniper with open source Ethernet plan

In an effort to better compete with data center switching rivals Cisco, Arista and Juniper, Mellanox is opening up.

The Infiniband-turned-Ethernet switching company is proposing an "Open Ethernet" strategy built on open source switching, routing and management software, and software-defined networking protocols. Mellanox hopes its Open Ethernet approach differentiates it from its competitors and appeals to customers looking to unshackle themselves from the "closed, proprietary" software of their switches, says Gilad Shainer, Mellanox vice president of market development.

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"This is the way to go," Shainer said repeatedly during a briefing with Network World, referring to the needs of IT managers to gain better control over the data center network in order to achieve higher levels of utilization and scalability for cloud computing and Web 2.0 applications. Mellanox believes opening up its switch software via open source will allow a wave of innovation on the platform from the open source application development community.

For Mellanox, already a leader in Infiniband switching for the data center, it might mean separating itself from the Ethernet pack. The company is opening the source code on top of its existing Ethernet switch hardware which, it says, is a move beyond the "narrow" support for open source its competitors provide in operating systems, standards and applications.

Mellanox is extending open source to the data center infrastructure, the company says - not only in operating systems, but in Layer 2 switching, Layer 3 routing, SDNs, network management and applications.

For SDNs, Mellanox is supporting OpenFlow, the popular protocol and API for SDN controller-to-switch interaction. OpenFlow is an open source protocol allowing SDN controllers to access the forwarding tables of OpenFlow-enabled switches and manipulate the forwarding behavior of those switches.

The company will announce at a later date which OpenFlow controllers it is endorsing, Shainer says.

Cisco is rumored to be the ringleader of the "Daylight" open source controller consortium. Juniper is also a proponent of SDN controllers supporting open source components.

For Layer 3 routing, Mellanox is adopting the Quagga, an open source routing software suite with implementations of OSPF, RIP and BGP-4 for Unix platforms, particularly FreeBSD, Linux, Solaris and NetBSD. Mellanox's Ethernet switch OS is based on Linux.

Open source-based Layer 2 switching and network management capabilities are now being evaluated, Shainer says. Concurrent with that are open source applications Mellanox will support on its Open Ethernet switch hardware, he says, which includes the company's range of 10G, 20G, 40G and 56Gbps devices.

Jim Duffy has been covering technology for over 25 years, 21 at Network World. He also writes The Cisco Connection blog and can be reached on Twitter @Jim_Duffy.

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This story, "Mellanox looks to head off Cisco, Juniper with open source Ethernet plan" was originally published by Network World.

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