Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Thursday, June 8, 2023

Dell Targets Network Bottleneck with Switch Interface 

In an attempt to move software-defined networking off the drawing board and into the datacenter, Dell's networking unit is rolling out a switch interface as a standard API that attempts to abstract software between various network operating systems and silicon residing on a physical switch.

Dell Networking's Switch Abstraction Interface was submitted on Tuesday (March 10) to the Open Compute Project (OCP) for review. Dell said it expects early adoption of the open switch interface by the industry group, which was formed to develop new server, storage, networking and other hyper-scale datacenter components.

The switching initiative is part of a larger effort to disaggregate much of the current networking framework, this time all the way down to the silicon on which switches run. The switching interface would reside between merchant silicon and networking operating systems and other network services.

The switch interface also would allow users to run any operating system and switching silicon, Dell claims.

"The network does not have to be a closed black box," Arpit Joshipura, Dell Networking's vice president of product management, said in an interview. "Networking has to be disaggregated" to get to a "framework for a software-defined world."

Dell said the interface enables a common language between various network operating systems and the silicon residing on a switch. That would allow developers to build applications tailored to specific infrastructure requirements.

Along with enabling new big data application and other workloads in datacenters, Joshipura stressed that the switch interface aims to eliminate networks as a datacenter bottleneck.

To that end, Kamala Subramanium, Microsoft's principle architect of Azure networking, said the open standard effort would "enable greater control and flexibility of the network."

OCP's networking group has been working on the switch interface proposal over the last year. Along with Dell, the group includes Microsoft, chipmakers such as Broadcom, Intel and Mellanox, switching gear manufacturer Big Switch Networks and Facebook.

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As it fleshes out is software-defined networking strategy, Dell has been working with VMware, OpenStack, Microsoft and others on hypervisor and network virtualization overlay approaches. It has also been working with Big Switch, NEC and Open Daylight on network control plane solutions. The goal is to disaggregate networking technologies from the application layer down to the silicon, Joshipura stressed.

The Open Compute Project holds its annual summit in San Jose this week. The initiative was launched to develop hyper-scale datacenter components based on open specs. Members claim progress on open components for servers, racks and storage along with networking.

Among the open source initiatives is an Open Network Install Environment that aims to decouple Ethernet switch hardware from networking software. The open API switch abstraction interface allows networking software to be written independent of the switch silicon used.

While the partners are pushing open specs, major players like Intel continue to dominate at the silicon level. Intel claims to have developed more than 40 Open Compute-compliant products ranging from Xeon processor boards to bare-metal Ethernet switches and cards.

Nevertheless, Joshipura said the open-source and open standards communities are starting to align in order to eliminate networks as a bottleneck in the datacenter. "I think networking is really cool again," he proclaimed.