Scaling White Box
July 04 , 2017
By Chris Rice and John Medamana
Source: AT&T Innovation Blog
Breaking down the layers of the new ecosystem
As mentioned earlier, the new ecosystem must be strong, stable and self-sufficient to be viable. Let’s look at the various elements in Figure 1 and see what is required. Starting at the bottom, the merchant silicon, there are several strong, stable options for this layer, many delivering to the telecom and web scale industry today.
AT&T Chief Technology Officer Andre Fuetsch spoke about some of our initial white box work at the Open Networking Summit (ONS) in April.
At ONS we highlighted Intel for its microprocessor and technology capabilities, and Broadcom and Barefoot Networks for their merchant silicon ASICs. Intel and Broadcom are long standing entities and Barefoot is one of many start-ups in this space, both of which speak to the health of the ecosystem at this layer.
For the next layer, the silicon interface, the place where the silicon features are abstracted and exposed to the higher layers of the stack, Snaproute is a start-up that has technology for this layer. There are options from the silicon companies themselves that expose their hardware abstraction layer (HAL) in a well-defined manner. Other options exist in open source, like Data Plane Development Kit (DPDK), Switch Abstraction Interface (SAI) and P4, which seek standard ways for abstracting the silicon chip’s data plane functionality.
The next layer, the hardware reference design, has many options. OCP provides reference designs for the industry, designs which one or more of its members have typically put into production. ODMs like Delta Electronics and Edgecore Networks are suppliers we used in our initial white box work. These companies and others make up a strong and stable ODM ecosystem for these new white box hardware systems.
The network operating system and associated protocols shown in Figure 1 at the top of the stack are critical elements of the new ecosystem, arguably the most important. This layer has typically been the domain of the OEMs with their proprietary network operating systems that “glue” all the silicon, associated hardware, low-level chip drivers, and networking application together. It is this layer that implements control and management plane functions allowing users and external systems to interact with the router. It is only the capabilities that are exposed here which are available to end users, regardless of what capabilities the silicon chip may have or what capabilities the low-level drivers can expose. The control and management plane protocols are implemented at this layer. It maintains routing and forwarding databases, allowing open interfaces for control plane protocols, enabling alarms and telemetry and exposing data plane capabilities