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Network operating system Dent 2.0 targets smaller firms

Don't Panic! Out in the uncharted end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun

The Dent Project has released version 2.0 of its open source network operating system, carving out features designed to make it easier for small or mid-sized enterprises to support edge deployments.

Dent OS is a Linux Foundation project that provides a platform for disaggregated network switches running on white-box hardware, and is based on the Linux kernel and open-source projects such as Switchdev. The first release was codenamed "Arthur", after Arthur Dent of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and this latest release was codenamed "Beeblebrox".

2.0 adds IPv6 and Network Address Translation (NAT) support for scalability and also to support a broader community of enterprise customers. Also new is Power over Ethernet (PoE) control to allow remote switching and monitoring in edge deployments. Another addition is traffic policing measures, such as rate limiting to protect against broadcast storms and help alleviate attacks that attempt to overwhelm key infrastructure.

According to the Dent Project, the new features are intended to allow smaller enterprises to take advantage of disaggregated switches as well as enable use cases beyond the datacenter.

"This new release of Dent 2.0 adds critical updates focused on smaller enterprise needs. This was the goal of Dent all along," said Steven Noble, chair of the Dent Technical Steering Committee.

The Dent Project points out that expertise in smaller companies may be limited while branch-office switches from big brands can require costly support contracts. In contrast, it claims that Dent OS can be deployed on white-box switch hardware, allowing users greater freedom to choose a form factor that will fit their space constraints.

However, IDC's Research VP for Data Centre and Multicloud Networks, Brad Casemore, said that there has been no significant adoption of network disaggregation (the network operating system decoupled from the switch hardware) in campus or branch networking so far.

"Adoption of open-source Linux NOSes such as SONiC has been overwhelmingly restricted to data centre networks thus far. Even then, it's not a mainstream enterprise trend, typically occurring in hyperscalers, tier-2 clouds, and a small but growing number of large enterprises that have built modern cloud data centre environments."

Dent was first released at the end of 2020, with the aim of transforming how enterprises address their distributed edge challenges. At the time, the Linux Foundation said that networking was moving away from proprietary solutions in favour of open standards, but that open projects had so far failed to meet the specific needs of distributed enterprise edge networking.

With Dent 2.0, retail stores, warehouses, remote locations, and small and mid-size enterprises are all slated as ideal environments for deployment. It can support dozens of wireless access points and sensors, forming the core of an edge infrastructure designed to track inventory, monitor shelf real estate, scan customer activity, and perform automated checkouts, according to the Dent Project.

Casemore told us: "In the datacenter, where applications reside and developers and CI/CD pipelines are changing what’s required of the network, the case for adoption of a Linux, open-source NOS can be compelling, especially for organisations that have DevOps teams and attendant skill sets in house."

However, branch networks still tend to be operated and managed by more traditional enterprise network teams, and they would need a strong reason to move away from the infrastructure and operating models that they know and trust, he added.

"I would imagine that the Dent community will promote cost savings, certainly on the Capex side, but enterprises will be concerned about costs related to service and ongoing support, and also about new learning curves."

Premier members of the Dent Project include Amazon, Delta Electronics, Edgecore Networks, and chipmaker Marvell. However, important contributions have also come from Nvidia, Keysight Technologies, and Sartura.

Dent 2.0 can be downloaded from the project's GitHub repository, while a list of supported hardware is available from the website. ®

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