Microsoft unveils API to break hardware/software coupling in switches

Redmond wades in to white box networking insurrection

Open Compute Summit While Facebook is likely to dominate news out of the Open Compute Project Summit in San Jose, Microsoft and Big Switch Networks have also brought along major announcements to the confab.

From Redmond comes the Switch Abstraction Interface (SAI), its latest contribution to the project. The SAI – which Mellanox is demonstrating on one of its switches – is an API designed to reach right down to the switching silicon.

If adopted by switch vendors, the SAI would let programmers access the networking silicon from a single interface, rather than having no access at all (as is common in proprietary switches), or having to run interfaces specific to the silicon they're using.

As Microsoft's principal architect for Azure Networking, Kamala Subramaniam, explains, the interface is designed to “break the software-hardware coupling” and choose both software and hardware on their fit with the network.

The current SAI – version 0.92 – proposes APIs for access control lists, equal cost multi-path, a forwarding database (MAC address table), a host interface, a neighbour database with next hop and next hop groups, port management, QoS, and router interfaces.

OCP okays Big Switch's Linux

In its announcement, Big Switch Networks says its Linux-based switch operating system has been accepted as the reference network operating system (NOS) for OCP.

Big Switch's Open Network Linux (ONL) runs the v3.9.6 kernel and ships with a variety of drivers, install scripts and a netboot-capable bootloader.

Pica8, which contributed code to the release, told The Register the unmodified Debian-based kernel is a big part of ONL's attraction, because it gives the Linux admin a familiar environment.

“The Linux admin says 'I like my CLI, I like my Ruby, and I like programmable APIs,'” explained Pica8's director of product marketing Calvin Chai.

Chai said the next challenge the OCP community will face will be reconciling the growing choice offered by emerging choices in ASICs, hardware vendors and interfaces with the growing complexity.

Pica8's approach is to draw together an ecosystem that lets it choose platforms that fit different customers' use-cases, Chai said. To date, the partner list includes Alpha, Celestica, Edge-Core, Foxconn, Interface Masters, Inventec, Netmag, and Quanta. ®

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