Open Networking Thrives at the 2015 OCP Summit

A few weeks ago I passed my 2 year work anniversary at Cumulus Networks. In this short amount of time we’ve helped change the networking industry as a whole. This statement may seem a bit bold, but I feel it’s justified and we’ve all earned it. I’ll attempt to back this up with a few anecdotes collected along the journey — the men and women of Cumulus Networks, along with our great partners and customers, deserve the credit here.

When I was first hired, our on-boarding process was a bit … unconventional to say the least. The first week included JR (our CEO and cofounder) taking a headshot photo for the website (at that time it was just a Brady Bunch collage of pictures, not much else) and being issued a switch for “jailbreaking.” Now jailbreaking is a bit of an extreme term, but in these dark days before open networking, the software and hardware for networks were tightly coupled together. Items such as debugging headers, a soldering iron, and even a bit of swearing were all part of the installation process on a fresh hardware platform. Fast forward to today, where the industry has centered around ONIE, the definitive open networking enabler for installing, uninstalling and rescue modes for network operating systems. I’m personally proud that we set the acceptable bar for ONIE quite high, well past the dated PXE provisioning stack that still continues to frustrate administrators on x86 server platforms.

At the recent Open Compute Project Summit in San Jose, California, Accton/Edge-Core announced that many of their platforms passed ONIE certification. This coincides with Cumulus Linux 2.5.1 support on the first OCP certified switch — the Accton/Edge-Core 5712. Certification is provided by an independent testing lab, which confirms that a vendor’s build of ONIE follows both soft and hard (physical) requirements.

One of my personal pet peeves has been addressed: as part of the standard, compliant hardware must ship with a “luggage tag” for asset management. It’s a small piece of sliding plastic that extrudes from the chassis; the label features both human- (text) and machine- (barcode) readable inventory information. Many traditional server and network suppliers have been doing this for years, now open networking suppliers are coming up to feature parity. It turns out labels that are affixed on the top or bottom of a piece of equipment are pretty much useless in a rackmount scenario, as they become inaccessible once racked. Another physical item requirement is a one-page quick start guide, educating an end-user about basic ONIE functionality along with serial console pinouts and example configurations.

Cumulus Networks announced another technical contribution to  the OCP networking community, called APD, for ACPI Platform Description. True to our heritage, we’re enabling the open networking ecosystem to grow around reliability and consistency. APD envisions a world in which hardware manufacturers are empowered to support a variety of operating systems. This extension is built off of a well understood standard that has been present in the PC world for over 20 years. Our own Andy Qin wrote a post which goes into more detail about the APD effort, Open Hardware that Just Runs.

I would encourage interested parties to join the OCP Networking group. The mailing list is very active and monthly phone calls facilitate open dialogue between hardware suppliers, operating system vendors, chipset manufacturers, and testing laboratories, along with the all important end-user base.

The disaggregation of networking software and hardware has become the norm. This is no longer an oddity or outlier. The summit exhibit hall featured no fewer than 5 hardware suppliers and 4 network operating system vendors, again proving that open networking is past the momentum phase within the OCP community. Cumulus Networks is proud to be a part of the success of the Open Compute Project and will continue to contribute to this community for many years to come.