Dell EMC recently expanded its Open Networking initiative, which focuses on abstracting and decoupling hardware and software networking elements, beyond the data center core. The goal is to enable an end-to-end, software-defined architecture, where mix-and-match software from innovative third-parties can run on agnostic hardware to help service provider and enterprise customers accelerate their digital transformation initiatives, improve agility, lower costs, and enable new services and applications.
The expansion includes the launch of an open switch platform for data center interconnection; a suite of software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) Ready Nodes for enterprise and service provider applications; and enhancements to OS10 Enterprise Edition system software with new SmartFabric Services, designed for private cloud, hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) and storage environments.
In this interview, Jeffrey Baher, Dell EMC’s senior director of product and technical marketing, discusses this expansion of the Open Networking initiative and Dell EMC’s vision of where it goes next.
SDxCentral: What is Open Networking, and what are the inherent benefits to customers?
Jeffrey Baher: Open Networking is an initiative that’s been four years in the making. At its heart is the notion of disaggregating the fundamental building blocks of networking equipment: The hardware from the software. It’s a fundamental change that has created vastly more innovation and choice in networking.
Traditionally, companies would purchase networking hardware and software from the same vendor, which was all proprietary and not suited for agile development; the networking company had to develop its own ASIC and write software to make it do anything. Through the evolution of silicon, there has emerged an opportunity to decouple the hardware and the software. We now have standard merchant silicon that everyone can use without having to develop a proprietary ASIC. And that’s helped to open the door for software development that’s independent from the hardware.
From a vendor perspective, this has created a whole new ecosystem, with the introduction of pure-play software providers, and it’s opening up innovation at every level, because we now have different players and more competition for silicon, systems, and software. In turn, that means that customers can make independent purchasing decisions around these elements, gaining significantly more choice and capabilities.
How has the Open Networking initiative and your participation evolved over the years?
We were a pioneer in this space. Since we made our first Open Networking announcement four years ago around decoupling networking hardware and software, we have worked to ensure that any product from us is inherently Open Networking-ready, with complete mix-and-match capabilities. That includes options for the top-of-rack, for data center fabrics, for the branch and the enterprise campus, and beyond.
Competitors have responded with their own stories around disaggregating their product lines. We’re also seeing more investment in this space in general, and more venture capital funding to start-ups that are focused on elements of disaggregation. This disaggregation movement is fundamentally changing the way the industry looks at networking equipment and how networks are built.
You made some recent announcements in this area. Tell us about those, and how they advance the Open Networking initiative.
The evolution of Open Networking can be compared to a blossoming flower, or concentric circles. Open Networking started in the data center, with top-of-rack equipment. From there, it expanded to fabric switches that connect the racks together. From there, campus and end-user environments with stackable PoE+ switches that are Open Networking enabled. And now with our most recent launch to the Data Center Interconnect space with our new Dell EMC S4200-ON switch, and to the wide-area with a new family of SD-WAN Ready Nodes. The end result is that you now have hardware and software that you can mix and match across the board, to create an end-to-end software-defined experience from data center to desktop
What are some of the advantages of the new Dell EMC S4200-ON switch?
The S4200 is aimed at applications at the edge of the data center, where the interconnection between data centers happens.
When you’re connecting multiple data centers within a service provider cloud, for example, it is typically routing intensive, requiring more table space and memory inside the gear. Traditionally this has meant having to use a propriety, often times very expensive, routing platform for the task.
The S4200 was purpose-built as a state-of-the-art deep-buffer, deep-table 10/100GbE data center switching platform for top-of-rack and interconnect applications and extends the Open Networking approach with mix-and-match software capabilities.
Because of that, it’s a more cost-efficient choice than proprietary platforms, in the range of 2-3 times less expense, and thus potentially quite disruptive for interconnect applications.
What are Dell EMC SD-WAN Ready Nodes, and why should enterprises or service providers consider them?
SD-WAN offers a way to run secure networking over a broadband-based, cloud-focused architecture. We are partnering with SD-WAN software vendors Silver Peak, VeloCloud, and Versa Networks to offer Ready Nodes, which are tested and validated bundles of different SD-WAN software, combined with options for different hardware platforms, to meet different performance and price requirements.
We think this is important, because yesterday’s enterprises WAN architectures are ill-suited for today’s traffic patterns and where things are headed
It used to be that if you worked from home or at a branch, you needed an iron-clad connection to headquarters. Now with the cloud, you just need a way to get to your company’s hosted private or hybrid cloud and public cloud resources, and that can be done over an internet connection. And that means that traffic patterns are changing significantly. Connecting to the corporate HQ doesn’t make sense if you’re just going to u-turn right back out to the internet.
Given that, the traditional private network overlay for WANs using MPLS is under scrutiny. An MPLS link could cost an enterprise as much as $1,000 per month or more. Business broadband connections are closer to $50 per month, so there’s an immediate cost savings in moving away from dedicated lines, especially if you have a lot of sites and a lot of Internet-destined traffic.
Ready Nodes offer end customers a great amount of choice to get away from traditional models and costs, while ensuring application performance and security. They fit into the same notion we’ve been focused on around disaggregation and opening up a broad, innovative ecosystem of software to mix and match, depending on where you are, and what you want to do.
Where do you see Open Networking going in the future?
Open Networking 1.0, if you will, started off in the data center (both hosted or on-premise), and we’ve extended it out to endpoints and branches. We’re seeing the ecosystem growing and rallying around different topology points across that architecture.
Open Networking 2.0 will look more closely at the software itself, which is often bundled into monolithic blocks that wed the operating system with the application. What we would like to see is a decoupling of the OS and app elements—a bit like what we see in the mobile phone environment. The OS should and could support any number of third-party apps to create any experience that customers want.
Our OS10 software is architected with this in mind, serving as a base for building that kind of app-centric environment. We believe it offers more control and more capabilities in the way in which it relates and calls upon the hardware. To go along with that, I think we’ll start seeing more open-source components within applications, so we’ll be looking at the internal architecture and code of the software itself as we go forward.
How does this evolution in networking fit into the bigger picture of next-generation digital transformation?
Open Networking is significant in its own right, but it also fits into the evolution of data center architectures. The broader story is about cloud models and hyper-converged infrastructure, and the way an application behaves horizontally within those environments.
The traditional approach within the data center is to have stovepipes of servers, storage and networking—all managed as three different silos. But environments are becoming more horizontal, with the hardware pieces working agnostically below, and a software-defined layer above orchestrating resources to support applications across all three aspects. This digital transformation supports new, agile, on-demand services and represents the future for enterprise and service provider infrastructure.
Open Networking is a foundational element of this overall movement towards digital transformation.