Switch abstraction will be next wave of SDN, says Dell

Dell submits a proposal for a switch abstraction interface to the Open Compute Project to advance software-defined networking

Dell has proposed a new switch abstraction interface (SAI) to the Open Compute Project (OCP) to establish a common language between network operating systems and the particular silicon that lives on the physical switch.

SAI marks a new stage in Dell’s Open Networking project, which has been ticking over for more than a year.

Up to now, said Dell Networking VP Arpit Joshipura, each network operating system had to write to a unique conversion code for every type of networking silicon.

In a similar way to how a desktop application doesn’t care whether it is running on AMD or Intel silicon, Joshipura said the advent of SAI meant network operating systems and other applications could now be independent of the silicon on which the network switch is built.

“This allows me to take silicon innovation independent of hardware or software, so I don’t have to depend on a chip coming next year to get an upgrade, I can go with another supplier without changing my applications or interfaces,” said Joshipura.

“You can also get more granular control of the switch if you want applications to drive the performance of the network.”

Read more about open networking

  • HP partners with Accton Technology and Cumulus Networks to deploy open network switches for web-scale cloud datacentres.
  • Facebook has developed an open switch for its network fabric comprising modular components built of standard technology. While innovative, experts say the technology is not for most enterprises.
  • There is plenty of talk about open networking, but the definition of that term changes depending on which supplier or standards body you ask.

SAI is an extensible, standardised API to express switch abstractions. It will be opened to third-party developers to build customer-specific applications to meet their own requirements.

Dell believes this will help to foster more innovation within the open networking ecosystem, and allow customers to take advantage of rapid innovation by deploying best-of-breed silicon as opposed to custom-designed ASICs.

It will also benefit silicon suppliers by giving them access to broader addressable markets, said Dell, while helping web-scale companies and cloud providers to exploit silicon innovation better by enabling them to program switches with greater granularity.

The proposal has been developed with a number of partner members of the OCP networking group, including Microsoft, chip suppliers Broadcom, Intel and Mellanox, and SDN supplier Big Switch Networks.

As organisations adopt cloud computing, leverage intensive big data applications and power an increasingly mobile workforce, they are placing unprecedented stress on their network,” said Kamala Subramaniam, principal architect of Azure Networking at Microsoft.

“We are excited to partner with Dell and other leaders in the OCP networking community to deliver an open and accessible standard to enable greater control and flexibility of the network.”

Read more on Software-defined networking (SDN)