Facebook open compute project is set to turn the server industry upside down, along with Amazon and Google. From new server architectures to machine firmware to ultra fast communications and virtual storage, #bigdata is going to help us get less physical IT costs and more flexibility.
[Reproduced from Wired 05.08.13]
Facebook Rattles Networking World With ‘Open Source’ Gear
Google solved the problem ages ago, but only for itself. Now, Facebook is building a solution for everyone else.
As far back as 2007, rumors indicated that Google was designing its own networking switches, creating a cheaper and more effective way of moving information across the massive data centers that underpin its web empire, and early last year, the rumors crystallized into the real thing, as photos of a Google switch appeared on the web.
Google still won’t discuss these switches, but it has revealed a similar project, and according to a former Google engineer who once worked on the switches, the company fashioned this new gear because its data center network had expanded to the point where traditional hardware just couldn’t get the job done.
“When Google looked at their network, they needed high-bandwidth connections between their servers and they wanted to be able to manage things — at scale,” JR Rivers told us last fall. “With the traditional enterprise networking vendors, they just couldn’t get there. The cost was too high, and the systems were too closed to be manageable on a network of that size.”
In other words, Google needed switches that could run new software and new protocols.
‘We aim to produce an OS-agnostic, open source switch that can be treated just a like a bare-metal server when it comes on the network.’
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Yes, Google’s operation is far larger than most, but nowadays, others are running into the same networking problems, and that includes Facebook. The difference is that when Facebook tackles this sort of thing, it typically does so with an eye for the bigger picture.
Two years ago, Mark Zuckerberg and company turned the hardware world on its head when they launched the Open Compute Project, an effort to improve every aspect of the modern data center and share the results with the world at large. They began by “open sourcing” fresh designs for computer servers and power systems and cooling equipment. Then they did the same with hardware that stores massive amounts of digital data. Then they remade the racks that hold all these machines. And now it’s time for the networking gear.
The idea is to design a networking switch that anyone can load with their own operating system — just as you can load your own OS on a computer server. Typically, networking switches are sold by hardware giants such as Cisco and HP and Dell, and they ship with software specific to the company that designed them. But Facebook aims to separate the hardware from the software.
“We aim to produce an OS-agnostic, open source switch that can be treated just a like a bare-metal server when it comes on the network,” says Frank Frankovsky, the man who oversees Facebook’s hardware design and serves as point man for the Open Compute Project. “We want to break the appliance model that’s used to distribute switches today.”
The trouble with today’s networking software is that it’s not as malleable as it could be. You can’t program networking gear in the same way you can program desktop computers and servers.
Several companies are already developing software designed to provide greater control over networking hardware, and many of these outfits have already put their names behind Facebook’s new project, including Big Switch Networks, VMware, and Cumulus Networks, a company founded by JR Rivers, the former Google networking engineer.
“This is a great idea,” Rivers says. “Today, there’s such thing as a bare metal server — but there’s no such thing as a bare metal networking device, a networking device that arrives blank and you can do whatever you want with it.”
In the past, Facebook has typically open sourced its new hardware designs after completing them behind closed doors. But according to Frankovsky, this new project will be a collaborative effort from the get-go. “What we find works better is to write a charter — the high-level intent of the project — and then allow the community to further define what the actual attributes of the project are,” Frankovsky says.
Rivers tells us he has already discussed many of these same matters with members of the Open Compute Project, but the design of the new switch is still very much up in the air. The plan is to formally start the project next week during an Open Compute meeting at MIT, outside of Boston. Najam Ahmad, who oversees network engineering at Facebook, will lead the project, but a long list of other companies are slated to participate, including Intel and Broadcom, who build microchips for networking hardware.
Big Switch Networks is already offering a generic switch operating system that lets you manage hardware with an open source protocol called OpenFlow, but Facebook’s project will go a step further, embracing any OS.
According to Frankovsky, Ahmad, and Rivers, the project will fashion a switch that includes a simple “boot loader” that lets anyone remotely install software on the device over a network. But in order for this to work, the software must be designed to recognize the boot loader.
Today, you can buy “white box” networking switches from original design manufacturers, or ODMs, such as Quanta and Accton, but the Facebook project aims to create a standard design that makes it far easier for anyone to run the software of their choice.
As with previous Open Compute projects, Facebook’s networking project will share the specs for this switch with the world at large, and — working in tandem with hardware manufacturers — anyone will be free to reproduce the hardware. Facebook’s “open source” server designs are now available from several manufacturers, including Asia-base outfits Quanta and Winstron.
According to Ahmad and Frankovsky, Facebook also plans fashion a device that’s much simpler than the typical switch. “What we don’t want on the switch is as important as what we do want,” Ahmed says. “Today, we end up buying a box that has a lot of features that aren’t applicable to what we do. We want to strip it down to exactly what we want.” Judging from the photos of the “Google Pluto Switch” that appeared on the web last January, Google has done much the same with its networking hardware. But Google’s hardware is only for Google.both ways, like any good partnership.”
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