Focus on Networking Software Not Just the Silicon Underneath (Part 1)

abstract_networkNetworking people often get into religious arguments about whether network devices ought to use merchant silicon or custom ASICs. This has been going on for a while: One side maintains that standard designs based on off-the-shelf components will eventually dominate networking, just as x86 CPUs took over mainstream data center servers. 

The other side rebuts that one needs specialized features and performance for devices, and those aren’t always available from merchant silicon. The argument never ends, but merchant silicon has been gaining ground and many vendors traditionally associated with custom ASICs, such as Juniper and Cisco, have added merchant silicon to some of their devices. The Juniper management staff including Rami Rahim and Jonathan Davidson said at an analyst briefing that if the performance is available, they would use merchant silicon, as they have in some QFX switches. Some Cisco Nexus switches also include merchant silicon under the covers.Furthermore, new vendors such as Arista and ODMs (Original Device Manufacturers) such as Accton, Agema, and Quanta have built their business on merchant silicon-based devices.

However, in 2015, it no longer makes sense to focus solely on this squabble. It’s certainly true that the performance of the network processor or FPGA matters; the end-user needs to deploy equipment that meets their IT requirements and their budget. Nevertheless, modern data centers have evolved and we need to turn our attention to the software.

I’m not talking about software-defined networking but networking software in general. Network devices contain an operating system and applications that process the data, track the network, and provide the foundation for the applications and provide the services you use. Consequently, an IT buyer needs to evaluate devices based on all of their needs – including software (automation, APIs, quality) and the hardware (chips, performance).

 There are also companies that have emerged to focus solely on the software part of the stack, such as Cumulus Networks, which has a Linux distribution called Cumulus Linux, or Pica8 with their PicOS. Arista has recently announced that it will license its EOS operating system separately from their switch hardware (although it requires Arista hardware).

Where does this lead IT buyers in their decision making? In the next blog, we’ll delve into what matters in software.

 

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Topics: Networking