This story is part of a short series about the white box ecosystem that we’re running this week. The first installment, profiling Cumulus and Pica8, can be found here.
Sure, it’s hip to call your stuff open-source, but Centec says it’s more open-source than you.
If you’re part of the Ethernet switch ecosystem, that is. On Wednesday, Centec plans to announce Lantern, an open-source collection of all the software you’d need for an OpenFlow switch, including bootup software and the software development kit (SDK) for programming Centec’s switch chips.
Lantern is available on Github under an Apache 2.0 license.
Throughout 2013, the open-source movement has been encroaching on the switch market. Cumulus introduced its free Linux distribution (“free” as in both speech and beer) for running a switch. Big Switch aims to fuel white boxes by offering the Switch Light open-source reference platform. And the Open Compute Project is working on open-source switch hardware, with contributed designs coming in from Broadcom, Intel, Mellanox, and Cumulus so far.
What’s not being open-sourced, however, is the SDK. It’s the software you’d get from, say, Broadcom for programming their chip, and it’s not exactly something the semiconductor vendors want to give away for free.
Enter Centec, which is trying to make its way into that switching market but has the handicap of being a startup against giants. “People talk about wanting a complete open-source switch for OpenFlow, so we are even making the SDK open-source,” says James Sun, Centec’s CEO.
It’s the company’s latest move toward making its chip easier for original design manufacturers (ODMs) and other potential customers to adopt. Earlier this year, the company released a reference platform called the V330; you might remember it as the winner of SDxCentral’s “SDN Idol” event at April’s Open Networking Summit. (Sun says his presentation there included a pledge to develop a fully open-source switch design.)
White-box vendors could bring a Lantern-based switch to market as-is, but there’s also plenty of room for augmentations, Sun says — agents for better statistics collection, or a network tap function, for instance. The point is that with the basics out of the way, vendors and even customers can concentrate on the applications side, which is what SDN is supposed to be all about in the first place, he says.
While white-box vendors are the target customers, Centec will be providing some fully assembled Lantern switches as well. Like Cumulus and Pica8, Centec has customers that want the switch fully cooked rather than in DIY pieces. Lantern will also interest some end users, such as cloud and e-commerce providers in China that are designing their own switches, Sun says.
In addition to the SDK, Lantern includes the Debian 7.2 release of Linux, a modified version of Open vSwitch, an OpenFlow 1.0 agent, and an API that lets higher-layer elements program the chip. Lantern also comes with a version of the V330 design that supports 48 1-Gb/s ports and four 10-Gb/s uplink ports.
Lantern’s emphasis is on OpenFlow, but Centec intends to expand the platform to more general Layer 2 cases. That should arrive “a few months later, maybe even a year later,” Sun says. Other pending enhancements include OpenFlow 1.3 and OF-Config 1.1 support and an OpenStack Neutron plug-in.