As enterprise networking becomes more complex, companies are exploring new ways to become more nimble and adaptable. One tactic is the use of disaggregated switching, where a network operating system — from a variety of vendors — can be placed on a piece of compatible switch hardware. Companies can then select specialized, open switching software that best matches their needs.
Hyperscale providers — such as Google and Facebook — have made the open networking switch an integral part of their data center operations. For the enterprise and campus network, open switches have yet to make a similar impact — especially at the edge. Still, the open source market bears watching. The same factors that make the open networking switch concept attractive in the data center — among them cost and flexibility — apply in the campus.
This article profiles vendors that specialize in the open approach to switching. Although many currently focus on larger networks and more complex deployments, these vendors are also laying the groundwork for devices that could ultimately plug into campus and edge environments.
Big Switch Networks Inc.
Big Switch Networks’ operating software supports hardware from a variety of vendors, among them Dell EMC, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Edgecore Networks. Although the company’s OSis primarily used in data center environments, it can also be used in high-capacity edge-class switches.
Cumulus Networks’ Cumulus Linux OS is used within more than 100 different hardware models — ranging from its branded Cumulus Express switches to devices made by Dell EMC, Lenovo, Edgecore and Super Micro Computer. As with Big Switch Networks, its primary focus is on data center environments, but the framework supporting Cumulus Linux could also conceivably be used in edge deployments.
Edgecore Networks’ range of hardware devices can run software from a variety of vendors and be deployed in a variety of environments — including the edge. All switches come with the network OS (NOS) preloaded.
This vendor also offers switches with its own OS, EdgeCOS. Various models are equipped with Power over Ethernet Plus (PoE+), with up to 30 watts per port and an overall power budget of 370 W for a 28-port switch. Edgecore is one of the few open vendors that currently offers these edge-only features.
Open networking initiatives
Individual vendors aren’t the only ones developing open switching software. Two groups in particular — the Linux Foundation and the Open Compute Project — have introduced a variety of initiatives and products geared to the open networking switch. The Foundation’s OpenSwitch OS runs on a variety of hardware. The Facebook-backed OPC, which has developed a family of switches, is focused on hyperscale data centers.
In 2018, Pica8 introduced a NOS aimed at branch and campus deployments. The software, PicaPilot, lets companies compress dozens of white-box switches into a single logical device and solitary IP address for configuration, provisioning and management. By simplifying how open network switches are managed, Pica8 is betting enterprises will warm up to the notion of using disaggregated switching platforms in their operations. Pica 8’s data center NOS, PicOS, is available on a variety of switch models.
Pluribus Networks is another open networking switch software vendor that concentrates on data center and large campus networks. The company also offers a line of branded switches, the Freedom 9000 series, which can be used as an aggregation device.