The Time is Now for 'Open Ethernet'

In today's data center you need to be able to add services and hardware without compromising network performance, but the flexibility to tune the network to meet business needs is also mandatory.

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

In today's data center you need to be able to add services and hardware without compromising network performance, but the flexibility to tune the network to meet business needs is also mandatory.

The current landscape of closed-code Ethernet switches supporting standard network protocols delivered on vendor proprietary equipment limits that flexibility. An alternative is Open Ethernet, an approach that enables customers to choose their switch vendors and software vendors irrespective of one another, or even run their own software on top of Open Ethernet switches.

[ ANALYSIS: What's next for Ethernet?

IN PICTURES: 20 milestones in Ethernet's first 40 years]

Open Ethernet allows users to gain control of their network and data center and to achieve higher utilization, efficiency and return on investment. Furthermore, Open Ethernet enables data center customers to significantly reduce capex and opex and add differentiation and competitive advantages in their networking infrastructure.

What's more, Open Ethernet eliminates proprietary software and encourages the development of an ecosystem environment focused on building Ethernet switch software to move innovation forward.

Today's OpenFlow and software-defined networking (SDN) implementations have not delivered on the promise of true open source, since vendors continue to lock in their network operating system, providing a narrow SDN API to some of the Ethernet switch's functionality. Open Ethernet takes SDN to the next level and opens the software on top of existing Ethernet switch hardware.

By enabling a combination of open source protocol stacks, OpenFlow agents, and other open source automation and virtualization tools to operate on the highest performance and most economical Ethernet switches, customers will gain flexibility and customizability that have not been available before. These options will allow customers to utilize advanced switching and routing protocols with SDN functionalities like network virtualization, custom programmability and simplified architectures. In addition, open source tools and packages for automation and self-service provisioning can easily be implemented to reduce operational costs.

Open Ethernet architecture is designed to be the interconnect platform for the next generation of data centers and cloud networks. The architecture enables full separation and protection of software components by utilizing virtual machine technology to ensure robust and reliable data center communication services, while delivering openness, modularity and extensibility. In addition, the architecture allows customers to use open source software stacks for Ethernet switching and IP routing, as well as an OpenFlow agent for SDN applications. The customer has full freedom to choose what software components to install and use.

Open Ethernet architecture has the capability to support open source or third-party NMS packages and task automation software. The virtual machine-based architecture is a robust and protected environment, providing a safe and secure way to optimize manageability and to automate common tasks within a specific customer environment with minimal risks.

In the Open Ethernet architecture, a hardware abstraction layer sits between the switch and the operating system and a software development kit sits between the operating system and the various open software applications, such as L2 Ethernet switching, L3 Quagga routing and OpenFlow agent. This level of openness, never seen before in the Ethernet market, allows customers complete control of both software and hardware.

The Open Ethernet architecture enables customers to lower the cost of ownership and enhance usability of the network. The ability to choose best-of-breed open source software stacks while implementing innovative enhancements on top of the software stacks provides customers with an unprecedented level of control of their networks. By combining open source software stacks, OpenFlow agents and controllers, and OpenStack management solutions, it is now possible to build truly flexible low-cost SDNs.

To fully benefit from Open Ethernet, it is important to have Open Ethernet-enabled switches that can deliver the highest available performance and port density with a complete chassis and fabric management solution enabling converged data centers to operate at any scale, while reducing operational costs and infrastructure complexity. These switches allow IT managers to build cost-effective and scalable switch fabrics for small to large clusters of up to tens of thousands of nodes. [Also see: "Readying Ethernet for the converged data center"]

Networking customers have been locked into vendor proprietary hardware and software solutions for years. The market for switches and routers has been ruled by a few select vendors, resulting in limited solution flexibility and high acquisition and service costs. Until now, there was no alternative to buying the networking solutions from the few vendors that have dictated the market. This vendor lock-in is eliminated by opening the switch platform and allowing customers to choose routing and switching software from the growing open source communities.

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By enabling a combination of open source protocol stacks, OpenFlow agent, and other open source automation and virtualization tools to operate on the highest performance and economical Ethernet switches, customers will gain flexibility and customizability that have not have been available before.

Combining best-of-breed hardware characteristics with Open Ethernet architecture will generate optimal performance. Moreover, using the open switching software to tune the hardware will enable scalable solutions for data centers. Open Ethernet provides users with data centers of all sizes with the flexibility and freedom to use any software on top of its Ethernet switches, allowing them to adapt and thrive in today's high-speed, interconnected world.

Mellanox Technologies is a leading supplier of end-to-end InfiniBand and Ethernet interconnect solutions and services for servers and storage, increasing data center efficiency by providing the highest throughput and lowest latency, delivering data faster to applications and unlocking system performance capability. For more information on Mellanox Open Ethernet, see http://www.mellanox.com/openethernet/.

Read more about lan and wan in Network World's LAN & WAN section.

This story, "The Time is Now for 'Open Ethernet'" was originally published by Network World.

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