The Linux Foundation has a brand new open source baby with some heavyweight godparents: the new project, DENT, aims to create a new, non-proprietary network operating system (OS) that can tackle the issue of networking vendor lock-in head-on.
In particular, DENT’s members intend to build a lightweight, Linux-based networking OS stack suitable for “remote” locations, they said late Friday, using the Linux kernel, Switchdev (a Linux kernel driver model for Ethernet switches) and other Linux projects to allow developers to “treat networking ASICs and silicon like any other hardware.”
Linux DENT: Why is it Needed?
Even though there are many Ethernet switch vendors, as Mellanox earlier put it, “all of them build systems using the identical switch chip with the same crippling performance constraints”; with legacy vendors often charging software license fees for “every little feature” like dynamic routing protocols. As a result the appetite of companies like Amazon to break their dependency on such vendors is growing.
(Networking solutions today are typically customised for each market and each use case, whether telecom, cloud or enterprise data center markets. They use proprietary silicon (ASIC) for packet processing and closed operating systems to enable workloads and applications on a network switch. While more open networking approaches are taking root in the data centre, the edge has remained a victim of legacy approaches.
This is growing more important amid a rise in 5G, Edge computing, IoT and AI that mean the next generation of remote buildings, retail stores and enterprises will have a lot of innovative workloads and services working closer to that “edge”/end-users.
DENT hopes to unify and grow the community of silicon vendors, Original Design Manufacturers (ODMs), System Integrators (SIs), Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) and end users to create an “ecosystem of contributors around a full-featured network operating system”, the project team said late Friday.
Linux DENT’s founding members include Amazon, networking software firm Cumulus Networks, Delta Electronics, semiconductor specialist Marvell, switchgear company Mellanox (bought by Nvidia in April 2019 – but awaiting regulatory sign-off), and Taiwanese product manufacturing company Wistron NeWeb.
Linux DENT “simplifies abstractions, APIs, drivers and overheads that currently exist in these switches and on other open software” they added.
“The Linux Foundation will establish a neutral home from the start for DENT – vital for community infrastructure, meetings, events and collaborative discussions,” said Arpit Joshipura, GM of Networking at The Linux Foundation. ”Our goal is to create an open source, open participation technical community to benefit the ecosystem of solution providers and users focused on network operating system, control plane and management plane use cases across a variety of industry solutions.”
Amit Katz, vice president of Ethernet switches at Mellanox Technologies, added: “DENT promotes network disaggregation, which benefits customers by eliminating vendor lock-in and allows hardware vendors to compete on a level playing field, where the very best switch ASICs and systems can win by delivering the highest ROI possible.”
“As a provider of intelligent wireless and wireline solutions, including those for distributed enterprise networking, Wistron NeWeb Corporation fully embraces open software architecture,” said Larry Lee, the company’s networking VP.
He added: “We are delighted to partner with the Linux Foundation and other industry leaders for this DENT project. WNC will first tackle distributed switching for the initial retail use case. We see great potential for this full-featured networking OS and look forward to working together in this partnership to improve network efficiency and provide conveniences for campuses and other remote distributed networking markets.”