OpenSwitch Finds a New Home

OpenSwitch has joined the Linux Foundation's stable of networking projects. This is a significant step. It means the network operating system's development will be driven by community needs, instead of the needs of few private companies.

OpenSwitch was released as an open-source project by Hewlett-Packard. It's a complete network operating system (NOS) based on Linux. As the name suggests, it's designed for use in data-center switches. HP builds enterprise switches, so it was well positioned to develop an NOS.

Since its earliest days, OpenSwitch has attracted plenty of interest. Firms of all sizes have used it in their data centers, and they've benefited from a solid, secure product that is free of proprietary code or restrictive licenses.

Network hardware vendors also have benefited. Instead of investing heavily in their own NOS software, they can ship their hardware with OpenSwitch. It allows them to concentrate on what they're good at—hardware. Several of these firms have become official project sponsors, including Accton Technology and Broadcom.

As an open project based on Linux, OpenSwitch can be installed on switches from many different vendors. As such, it provides a single reliable interface for network administrators, regardless of the actual hardware used on-site. This provides much more flexibility, allowing admins to replace a physical switch if a better option appears. Each organization has its own requirements, and those can change during the lifetime of a product, so being locked in to a single hardware choice can have far-reaching consequences.

LinkedIn has restructured its data center from scratch. The goal is to simplify scalability, reducing complexity and overhead. Among many other changes, LinkedIn's engineers are using OpenSwitch throughout the three layers of their new network.

LinkedIn isn't just a consumer, it's a contributor too, and it has been working on its own switching solution, Project Falco. Although much of the code is particular to LinkedIn's networking needs, some of it is general and suitable for other organizations. LinkedIn has contributed some of that code back into OpenSwitch.

Now that the OpenSwitch project is under the Linux Foundation umbrella, the project leaders hope to attract new developers, but the expected benefits go beyond the pedigree of the contributors. With Linux forming a core component in the NOS, coordination between the two projects is very important.

The Linux Foundation also brings more resources to help manage the project. Although HP and their commercial partners will continue contributing, they are now free from the burden of managing the work of other contributors.

Managing big teams is an area where the Linux Foundation excels—there are thousands of individual developers who contribute to the Linux project. Coordinating all of these programmers is a demanding job!

OpenSwitch isn't the only open NOS with a Linux heart, but it is the first to be officially embraced by the Linux Foundation.