Google Seeds Latest SDN Effort

Source:Rick Merritt
2018/03/13
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Google contributed code to an open-source project organized by the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), the latest effort in software-defined networks (SDNs). Stratum will use the P4 programming language and a handful of open-source interfaces to manage large networks for data centers and carriers.

The group aims to release open-source code early next year, available on multiple networking chips and systems. So far, the project consists of a handful of software companies along with five chip vendors, five potential users, and four OEMs, including Barefoot Networks, Broadcom, Cavium, China Unicom, Dell EMC, Mellanox, and Tencent.

Google committed to move the software into its production networks this year. Its plan to be among the first users of Stratum-based systems “will help grease this market,” said Timon Sloane, vice president of marketing and ecosystems for ONF.

SDN aims to manage large networks through high-level language programs running on a standard x86 server. That’s a radical departure from today’s nets based on proprietary protocols and tools running on merchant and ASIC switch and router chips.

Experiments in SDN date back to Google’s B4 network described in 2013 using a variation of the OpenFlow protocol. But OpenFlow proved too limited, so ONF shifted last year to the P4 programming language, launched as an open-source project by network chip startup Barefoot.

The ONF showed an early version of the code last month at Mobile World Congress (MWC), running on chips from Barefoot, Cavium, and Mellanox. Besides the P4 language, Stratum will use a P4 runtime and three open-source protocols that Google helped develop — gNMI, OpenConfig, and gNOI.

The participation in Stratum of Broadcom, the dominant vendor of merchant switch chips, marks a milestone for the SDN effort. When the company released its Jericho2 chips earlier this month, it said that it would provide its own C++ tools to select customers but added that most users do not need to program a network chip’s pipeline and pooh-poohed the P4 tools.

Broadcom and some OEMs selling ASIC-based networking systems are not expected to run P4 programs natively on their chips. Instead, they will create translation layers in SDKs and APIs to let the software describe data-forwarding features of their chips.

The next big leap for the ONF will be to show Stratum working on a variety of existing and new systems. So far, Cisco, the leading provider of ASIC-based networking systems, is not showing interest in P4.

“I believe Stratum will be one of the remaining missing links to give software developers access to lower-level hardware,” said Sloane.

Engineers pulled together the MWC demo in just three months compared to much longer times needed to create networks using multiple proprietary systems, he said.

Another big step is to get larger groups of OEMs and end users to adopt the Stratum code. “I know of at least three or four other companies — not all operators — doing the paperwork now to join Stratum, and we expect more,” he said.

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The ONF will provide native and indirect paths to supporting Stratum. 

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