Over the last couple of weeks, the networking industry has made some significant steps in the right direction, the open networking direction. At the Open Networking Summit (ONS), we heard some great news about the disaggregated network and how open networking is now everywhere from hyperscale to the enterprise to startups to telcos. As exciting as that is, that’s not the news I’m referring to — I’m referring to the announcement of the Open Networking Testing Consortium.

To illustrate why this is big news, I’ll give some background on how open networking has been operating for most people. Up until a few years ago, the way you purchased a bare metal switch was through select APAC sources and a wire transfer. A few weeks later, you’d receive your equipment and it was then up to you, the end user, to perform interoperability testing with your cables and optics manufacturers while on the phone with support, along with bootstrapping your OS to these boxes. Eventually you had both a CapEx and OpEx saving solution that you controlled from end to end.

One the first bare metal switches, Google Pluto

One the first bare metal switches, Google Pluto

Luckily for most of you, that experience has now been refined significantly to the same method by which compute and storage are purchased: through tier one system providers like Dell, HP, Supermicro and many others. But in order to increase adoption of open networking components, we have to change how some things are done in the industry, such as component validation, interoperability testing and compliance with industry standards and protocols to build solid open networking solutions.

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A typical bare metal switch today running ONIE

For the past 9 months we in the OCP Networking Group have been working on exactly that. We started by creating component validation for ONIE (the Open Network Install Environment), supporting more than just the 9 vendors in the ONIE repository as well as more than 40 network devices, and moving towards interop testing where Cumulus Linux is just one of the many NOSs (network operating systems) supporting this hardware. For the OCP Networking group, interop testing consists of taking OCP and non-OCP components such as switches, cables, optics and NOSs, then ensuring they all work together as if end users bought them all from a single vendor.

IOL students hard at work

Univ. of New Hampshire – InterOperability Lab students hard at work

You are probably asking, “So what?!? How’s this different than what my current vendor does?”. Good question, but does your vendor test with other vendors’ equipment? Or better yet, does your vendor make all test plans and reports publicly available without a paywall so that anyone can reproduce them? Because that’s exactly what we are doing.

In the server world there are a variety of standards like x86 processors, PXE, MBR/GPT disk layouts, SMBIOS, ACPI and many more alphabet soup acronyms that act as “the glue” to make your computer function reliably without the end user having to think about it much.  However, it’s a different experience in the network world, where ISVs like Cisco, lock down or perform proprietary enforcement of a closed ecosystem.

When vendors have walled gardens, there is no interoperability, and thus, less choice for end users. This is the exact opposite from open networking where we thrive on offering users freedom of choice with unlocked hardware, unbundled software and configuration management, enabling users to choose the best of breed for their needs.

OCP MSX1710 from Mellanox with Avago AOC and 3M ready to go

OCP MSX1710 from Mellanox with Avago AOC and 3M ready to go

In recent months, a group of hardware, cable and optics vendors have been meeting regularly to create a test plan to ensure proper interoperability. These meetings have been open to any interested party participating within OCP, a true collaboration that is open and transparent. When we got to a point where we needed to do a dry run, we performed a “plugfest” to ensure the accuracy of the testing procedures. This usually meant 6 or more vendors would meet at UNH – IOL for a week of testing. The first plugfest was held at the end of February before the OCP Summit, where a number of NOS vendors participated. Cumulus Networks conducted the second one a couple weeks ago (June 15 – 19) with optics and cable suppliers 3M, Avago, Amphenol, Finisar, JDSU and Mellanox.

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Bare metal switches with Cumulus Linux and Amphenol cables

We are at the point where the test plan is solid and we are launching our interop compliance program in September. But we are not stopping there; later this year we will launch “Consumer Reports for Open Networking,” a publicly available website where end users can look up which devices are compliant with which cables/optics running a particular NOS. We expect to have a MVP (Minimum Viable Product) of the site running by end of this year.

Everything we just described — open testing and open reporting — is an industry first where a complete network solution is being validated end to end. The end goal for our interop testing is to cover the whole space, from the NIC on a server to a pluggable to a switch through a routing protocol and back down the stack.

I want to thank the following vendors for participating in our dry run plugfests:

  • 3M – Much props to Dinah for saving our bacon with last minute supplies.
  • Accton – Big ups to Jeff and Pete.
  • Amphenol – Erdem, you’re awesome.
  • Avago – Chris, John, and Steve, we couldn’t have done this without y’all.
  • Big Switch Networks – Thanks Paul for helping us out on the first plugfest.
  • Cumulus Networks – Much Grass to Shrijeet, Nolan, JR, Matt, and everyone who supported them. The industry wouldn’t be the same without y’all.
  • Fidelity – Bob and Mark, A big Thank You for keeping us in line with testing and compliance goals that are useful to end users.
  • Finisar – Craig, Dave, Larry, Mitch, and Steve, thank y’all for y’all’s guidance and participation.
  • JDSU – Many thanks to Chen, Georg, and Rob.
  • Mellanox – A big shout out to the folks across the pond: Amir, Ben, Idan and Tomer.  Keep rocking.
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The Plugfest #2 team

I would like to also give a huge THANK YOU to Chris Dube and her team at IOL for putting together this test plan and shepherding all of us through the process of neutral interop testing.

To celebrate the start of this interop program, a plugfest is planned for mid-September where we expect even more cables, optics, switches and NOS vendors to participate.

2015 is going to end with a big bang for open networking!

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