Facebook shakes up switch market with new Open Compute Project

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Source: jeff_golden, via Flickr

Facebook shook up the networking market today with the announcement that it has kicked off a project to build an open, OS-agnostic data center networking switch as part of the Open Compute Project.

The concept represents a big shift in the networking space. As Wired’s coverage of the announcement notes, switches today are tied to, typically, proprietary software. There’s no buying hardware and software separately, like businesses can do with servers, for instance.

I’ll be interested to see if the project can scale down to meet needs of businesses building data centers on a much smaller scale than Facebook and other massive Internet companies. The reason Facebook, and Google as well, are interested in building their own switches is because those on the market don’t meet the needs of their huge operations.

While these large Internet companies represent big volumes, their needs aren’t always the same as the needs of even large enterprises. But, a disaggregated switch could appeal to the wider enterprise market. For one, it gives them more flexibility when making purchasing decisions – maybe one company makes great hardware but a different one makes software that meets their needs.

Plus, disaggregating the hardware and software could spur new market entrants, driving down costs for buyers.

Actual designs out of the Open Compute Project probably won’t come for a while – GigaOm is reporting 9 to 12 months. But that’s because the group is taking a new approach this time.
The Open Compute Project already describes designs for servers, storage, management tools, and more.

“But we’re still connecting them to the outside world using black-box switches that haven’t been designed for deployment at scale and don’t allow consumers to modify or replace the software that runs on them,” Frank Frankovsky, chairman and president of the Open Compute Project wrote in a blog post today.

When Facebook launched the Open Compute Project, it released the designs it was already using internally for things like servers. This time around, the group will design the switch in collaboration with industry. Some big names – Broadcom, Big Switch Networks, Cumulus Networks, Facebook, Intel, Netronome, OpenDaylight, the Open Networking Foundation, and VMware – have all said they plan to contribute.

Read more of Nancy Gohring's "To the Cloud" blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @ngohring. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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