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Facebook opens up, shares blueprints for its 100Gbit network switch

New Backpack gear shifts tons of data for VR future

It’s odd thinking of Facebook as an infrastructure company rather than a purveyor of cat pictures and fake news. However, the web giant is rapidly becoming one of the key leaders in telecommunications design – as demonstrated with the firm’s latest release.

The Backpack is a second-generation modular open switch platform designed to up data throughputs from 40 to 100Gbps. That’s necessitated a redesign of the first-generation box to handle the cooling for its 100GE ASIC chips and optics within an orthogonal direct chassis architecture, and some hidden improvements under the hood.

“We’re trying to build an end-to-end infrastructure that can move larger volumes of data around and get better online experiences,” Jay Parikh, head of engineering and infrastructure at Facebook, told The Reg ahead of a fireside chat with your humble hack on stage at Structure 2016.

The software behind the switch is Facebook’s own FBOSS and OpenBMC networking stack and baseboard management implementations, and is open source so network managers can tune functions. The design and the software behind it have been submitted to the Open Compute Project and are expected to be ratified shortly.

In the meantime, Facebook is going to be cramming these switches into its own data centers. Parikh said that this Open Compute Project hardware, when used with the company’s similar Telecom Infra Project for communications equipment, is going to be vital for the augmented and virtual reality future Facebook is gearing up for.

AR, and particularly VR, take up massive amounts of data. The platform is never going to take off until these huge chunks of software can be handled and routed swiftly. So it’s in Facebook’s interest to make sure the kit is out there to handle the load.

Parikh said the company had decided to open source or issue royalty-free licenses for its tech because it’s keen to get it out there faster and for others to improve on it. Facebook has no intention of becoming a telco, he said, but was happiest when the established players managed to get data feeds through faster. ®

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