Freescale isn’t getting into the switch business. But the chip vendor, known for communications processors, does have its own ideas about what a network switch should accomplish in a software-defined networking (SDN) world.
So, the company has developed the Network Services Switch (NSS), a full system announced yesterday and being demonstrated at Interop next week.
It’s a white box switch with a Freescale QorIQ multicore processor and the company’s own network software, a Linux-based suite calledd VortiQa. Switching functions are handled by a Broadcom Trident II switch chip, and the whole system is built by Taiwanese ODM Advantech.
The convergence of switching and CPUs is being pursued by a few vendors. In fact, at a very high level, Freescale’s NSS resembles the appliances put together by startup Pluribus Networks, combining off-the-shelf CPUs with off-the-shelf switch chips.
They’ve got the same skeleton, but a more fleshed-out view reveals differences between the approaches.
Most notably, Pluribus is in it strictly for the software — its network operating system called Netvisor, which the startup sees as a link between bare-metal hardware and software-defined networking (SDN) functions. From that starting point, Pluribus aims for some lofty goals — the ability to manage the entire network as one application-aware node, for instance. (In January, Pluribus raised a $50 million Series D to pursue such goals.)
Freescale’s ambition is more down-to-earth. It’s not even thinking of the NSS as an example of converged infrastructure. Rather, Freescale wanted to build a switch that can house services that operators would want to place close to the switch — firewalls, load balancers, and the like. It’s a pizza-box switch that can integrate other functions.
A More ‘Capable’ OpenFlow Switch
Where Pluribus uses its own software to control the Broadcom chip, Freescale is using Broadcom’s OpenFlow Data Plane Abstraction (OF-DPA), an API that lets OpenFlow applications program the switch. (By creating OF-DPA, Broadcom gives systems vendors some flexibility with its chips while still not opening up its software development kit.)
The result is a more “capable” switch, says Sam Fuller, head of Strategy and Solutions for Freescale’s Digital Networking group.
In part, “capable” means the NSS can reach into corners that Broadcom’s switch chips, on their own, can’t. For example, it can implement any of the features of OpenFlow 1.3 for Open vSwitch (OVS), whereas Trident II supports only a “small subset,” Fuller says.
The bigger picture is that the NSS can run network functions that ought to be housed next to the switch, rather than in the server or deep in the network core. For example, the NSS could immediately apply IPsec to particular traffic flows that are destined for untrusted regions of the network.
Freescale also envisions the NSS housing virtual network functions (VNFs) in NFV deployments. (Really, the idea doesn’t seem far removed from using line cards to add Layer 4-7 functions to a modular switch.)
Freescale is “in the midst” of shopping the NSS concept to OEMs and even to other ODMs, Fuller says. The company’s hope is that the NSS can become another vehicle for selling communications processors and can build a higher profile for the VortiQa software.
“Other ODMs are developing similar platforms with different processor and software combinations, and we intend to make our software available on those platforms as well,” Fuller says.
The NSS from Advantech is due to ship in the second half of the year.