W.Media Tech Talk: Revolutionising industries with OCP open networking

For years, large companies have been disaggregating their data center networks through solutions like open networking, but now this is rapidly moving into the enterprise space as well as telco and public sectors.

More than 100 delegates joined W.Media’s and Open Compute Project’s most recent digital event to shed light on open networking, one of OCP’s fastest growing projects.

Steve Helvie, the VP of Channel at OCP, described three main reasons for the growth of disaggregation in the data center, which allow for greater flexibility at the enterprise level:

  1. Reduction in data center capital expenditure opportunity
  2. The increase in Software-Defined Networking (SDN) offerings
  3. The rise in merchant-based silicon

Steve said: “When people are moving toward this disaggregation model, they are moving towards an OCP-based switch, which has been open sourced at the specification level and design level.”

OCP’s 0pen networking disaggregates the hardware from the software allowing for freedom of choice to prevent vendor lock-in, creating a flexible combination of software based on workloads. This creates a highly efficient network resulting in significant savings of up to 50% in CAPEX compared to traditional OEM networking.

Open networking for vendors

The number one contributor of open networking in the OCP Community, Edgecore Networks, is a leader in regional vendor communities and has a seat on OCP’s technical steering committee which oversees the various OCP projects like open networking.

Bui Banh, the Business Development Vice President of Edgecore Networks, described OCP open networking solutions as providing greater control for customers by empowering them to choose the right hardware or software and develop an innovative solution for their needs.

While working with OCP, Edgecore Networks has contributed to more than 17 designs accepted by OCP’s Community, including Photonics Switching for data centers, Aggregations and Core switches for telecoms and Open Wi-Fi for enterprises.

Bui said: “A few telcos including Telefonica have decided to use our Cell Site Router for their 5G deployment.”

Bui also mentioned there are many more telco customers working on the Cell Site solution, but he was unable to publicly announce the names of these companies at present.

OPC successfully helps customers transform to open networking

DCConnect Global, a software-defined networking vendor and carrier that has the ability to reach more than 1,500 different data centers worldwide, found success transforming to an OCP open networking solution.

Michael Rascoe, the Head of Solutions at DCConnect Global, said: “We tried to take those same principles and thoughts [of disaggregation] and move them into the telco space where there is not traditionally good penetration of the open source hardware and software.”

Originally, DC Connect Global had more than 120 pops using H3C switches to help hyperscale their network and meet their immediate goals. But they began to suffer from vendor lock-in, as the H3C SDN Controller only worked with H3C switches.

Jonathan Leung, the Head of R&D at DCConnect Global, said: “That leads to a limited feature set, which means that if we wanted to have some features that H3C currently doesn’t support, we will have to wait for H3C’s pipeline.”

He added: “For us, as a very agile company, the speed of development is not acceptable.”

DCConnect Global eventually moved to Edgecore Networks and Linux, allowing them to treat the network more like a piece of software by changing up the source code to add the features they needed.

Michael said: “What we actually found ourselves doing is, instead of adopting another traditional carrier solution and their controller, we wrote our own controller that could talk to our legacy H3C devices as well as the newer Linux NOSes.”

Both Edgecore and Cumulus Linux flew out engineers to DCConnect’s new Hong Kong office to support them and build out their proof of concept in a weekend.

Michael added: “We were really excited and really energised by the amount of attention and focus that we got from both Cumulus and Edgecore.”

DCConnect began to switch around a year ago, and it took just a few months to begin using the Cumulus-Edgecore combo on the new pops. They are now going through to replace hardware on legacy pops, though this has been slowed down slightly due to the current economic state caused by the pandemic.

In total, DCConnect had less than a dozen people work on this project.

Overcoming the challenges of moving to an open networking solution

Michael said the hardest part of the transition was thinking how to get a network engineer to think like a software engineer and vice versa. This challenge eventually became a net positive, as they found their network engineers learnt more about the software world and the same for software engineers learning more about the network.

Another challenge could be the lack of experience on platforms like Linux, but Michael suggested you talk to younger and newer developers on your team.

He added: “They’re straight out of university and they’re still in that learning mode and they know a lot more about the modern architecture.”

Michael has also noticed that the uptake of open networking in Asia Pacific has been somewhat slow due to the fear of the unknown and fear of Linux as well as pushback from those that have traditionally lived in a CCIE hierarchy.

To get started, you could go on to the Cumulus website and spin up a virtual lab, or if you have a hypervisor or a good server that you can do some virtualisation in, you can pull down all the Cumulus Linux demo labs.

Michael added: “There are plenty of people that are happy to talk to you about this because a lot of us are just nerds that really love Linux.”

What’s next after implementing open networking?

Jonathan believes that now that separation of hardware and software is made possible, the data center will become more disaggregated and the cloud will become more important as the place to build virtual network functions or virtual data centers.

Jonathan predicted: “I think OCP technologies are going to open up many markets in developing economies with the idea that the network resources can be bought and sold from anywhere without any physical restrictions, which is going to revolutionize the networking industry.”

OCP was started by Facebook in 2011 with the intention of creating a collaborative community focused on redesigning hardware technology and providing efficient data center designs for scalable computing. 

Since then, OCP has been joined by over 150 companies to work on common problems, developed more than 190 contributions and 6,000 engineers working across 15 to 20 different projects.

Steve was very pleased to announce during the Tech Talk that Google joined the board of the Open Compute Project on May 12 2020.

The Open Compute Project expects to become its own US$5.3 billion business in 2020 and reach US$11.8 billion by 2023.