HP Launches OpenSwitch Linux Network Operating System

HP-led effort will compete with Cumulus and Big Switch but won't displace existing firmware on many of HP's own switches.

By Sean Michael Kerner | Posted Oct 5, 2015
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Today, HP officially launches the open source Open Switch network operating system. Intended to be the base of an open community, the new effort is supported by VMware, Intel, Broadcom, Broadcom and Arista. Mark Carroll, Vice-President and CTO at HP, emphasized that the OpenSwitch operating system is really a community-driven development base. Though HP is announcing the OpenSwitch OS at the Linuxcon EU conference, the effort is not formally backed by the Linux Foundation.

"We consider Open Switch as a fully featured, modular, Linux based operating system," Carroll told Enterprise Networking Planet.

While there are multiple Linux-based network operating systems in the market today, in HP's analysis none of them fully meet requirements of scale and architecture. The Open Switch NOS is a modular, publish-and-subscribe model that aims to solve a gap that HP sees in the market.

While Open Switch as a community development is just now launching, HP has a long history of involvement with the Debian Linux community, involvement which might help inform this new initiative. Carroll emphasized, however, that Open Switch is being built "from scratch" and makes use of code in the upstream Linux kernel.

It's not yet quite clear what the packaging model will be for Open Switch NOS and whether it will make use of some form of transactional update mechanism. Transactional update systems, like the Ubuntu Snappy system which is not being deployed on switches, provide small packages that are easier to update and rollback.

The idea to run Linux on a bare metal switch is also one that the Open Compute Project has been pushing forward since 2013. A key part of the Open Compute Project's networking effort is ONIE, the Open Network Install Environment, which enables a switch user to download any ONIE-compliant operating system. The Open Switch NOS will support ONIE, giving users more choice.

Carroll noted that HP's own open switch efforts to date have enabled Cumulus Linux as well as Pica8 to use ONIE to run on top of a specific subset of HP switches. Open Switch NOS will now directly compete against Cumulus and others in the OCP switch ecosystem.

"Open Switch will now be another operating system of choice, but a big difference is that it will be the only one that is really open," Carroll said.

Carroll said that the openness extends to modification as well as to open participation with switch vendors.

While HP is backing the new Open Switch NOS, it isn't about to broadly abandon its existing proprietary operating systems for wired and wireless gear anytime soon.

"As there is a consolidation of traditional switch vendors, there are some opportunities for workload specific open switches, where Open Switch NOS will be ideally suited," Carroll said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at ServerWatch and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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