The Open Networking Foundation (ONF) is creating a new open source project that stems largely from Google’s desire for programmable white boxes that are easily interchangeable.
The new project, named Stratum, will create a reference platform for a truly software-defined data plane along with a new set of software-defined networking (SDN) interfaces. Its goal is to provide a white box switch and an open software system.
“A big driver to this was Google,” said Timon Sloane, VP of marketing with the ONF. “They run the biggest SDN network in the world. It supports a quarter of the world’s traffic. But it’s not so easy to pick up a new box or silicon from a vendor. They have to do a whole pile of verification and tweaking to make it work.”
Google was one of the original founding members of the ONF in 2011 and has been one of ONF’s biggest contributors.
In addition to Google, another cloud provider — Tencent — is joining the Stratum project. And other founding members of Stratum include:
- Telecom Operators: China Unicom, NTT, Turk Telekom/Netsia
- Networking Vendors: Big Switch Networks, Ruijie Networks, VMware
- White Box ODM Vendors: Delta, Edgecore Networks, QCT
- Silicon Vendors: Barefoot, Broadcom, Cavium, Mellanox, Xilinx
Founding members must contribute a full-time engineer to the project, plus bring their expertise into the ecosystem. “For an operator, they need to at least be trialing it,” said Sloane.
Google is kick-starting Stratum with seed code that originates from its production network.
Stratum will use programmable chips along with a tool chest that includes P4 and P4Runtime. “It is now possible to completely redefine the forwarding behavior as well as manage all configuration and operational aspects of the data plane,” according to a statement from the ONF.
True programmability of the forwarding plane gives so much more control to software developers, “instead of the behavior of the network being defined by ASIC developers,” said Sloane.
The founding members plan to make Stratum solutions available on the broadest possible selection of networking silicon and from a diverse selection of white box switches from a choice of manufacturers.
The project is in incubation through 2018 with project members having full access to the code. It will enter a fully open phase in 2019, with plans for Apache 2.0 licensing.
ONF’s Work on SDN
From the ONF’s perspective, the Stratum project is part of its larger effort to evolve SDN. “Part of this is a successor to OpenFlow,” said Sloane.
The ONF is working on a set of next-generation SDN interfaces, leveraging, among other things, the P4 language and the P4 Runtime.
The group says whereas OpenFlow only defined mechanisms to control the forwarding behavior, it is now possible to completely redefine the forwarding behavior as well as manage all configuration and operational aspects of the data plane. Next-generation SDN interfaces include four major functional capabilities, exposing all aspects of data plane control and management. Those four capabilities are pipeline definition, pipeline control, device configuration, and device operations.
Asked if some of this work was similar to AT&T’s efforts with its disaggregated network operating system (dNOS), Sloane said, “Once you have an architecture, it’s easier to port dNOS to another white box system that also has Stratum. In that way the projects are compatible.”