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Reports: Cisco Working on Stand-Alone OS

April 17, 2017

Just about everybody in this industry likes to talk about software-centric networks that allow for greater agility and economies of scale. The actual strategies and deliverables behind these conversations vary greatly, however.

But now companies like AT&T and Facebook are turning up the heat on traditional network equipment vendors by putting together white box solutions that leverage the hardware and software components of their choice. And that has apparently prompted switch and router giant Cisco to work on a standalone operating system that will be able to run on  general purpose processors and white box servers instead of the vendor’s proprietary hardware and silicon.

At least that’s what The Information and RCR Wireless are reporting. 

In response to TMC’s request for comment on those reports, Cisco spokesman Jim Brady emailed the following: “We do not comment on rumor or speculation.  That said, the vast majority of our customers see huge value from the power and efficiency of our fully integrated networking platforms. This tight integration of hardware and software will continue to be the basis of the networking solutions we offer our customers.”

However, stories by the media outlets say the Cisco project is code named Lindt and that if and when it becomes commercially available “customers will be able to use Cisco’s cheaper switches that run on chips made by other companies, like Broadcom, rather than Cisco’s specially designed chips.”

In the recent article, author Yishay Yovel, vice president of marketing for Cato Networks, writes that “the move appears to be Cisco’s answer to software-only routing and switching competitors, and the days when switching and routing necessarily meant Cisco are likely numbered.”

Yovel added that a Cato Networks survey of more than 700 networking, security, and IT professions indicates that 39 percent plan to eliminate hardware appliances this year. He also notes the recent rise of SD-WAN solutions, which he says directly targets Cisco by threatening to eliminate the need for branch office edge routers and the vendor in this market.

As for the AT&T reference mentioned earlier, the carrier earlier this month revealed that it has conducted live field trials proving multi-vendor open source white box switch technology is viable in real-life networks. Barefoot Networks, Broadcom, Delta Electronics, Edgecore Networks, Intel Corp., and SnapRoute worked with AT&T on this effort.

                    Image via Bigstock

“What this means is we used a common, uniform open network operating system across multiple merchant silicon chips to build a piece of network equipment that met our stringent real-world data needs,” AT&T explained in an April 4 statement. “What’s more, the boxes we tested provided high performance telemetry into our ECOMP platform to monitor the traffic as it zipped from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco. It’s early, but we think this technology could accelerate innovation on almost any device that requires connectivity.”

(ECOMP, by the way, stands for enhanced control, orchestration, management, and policy platform. AT&T has been the driving force behind ECOMP, an orchestration solution in which Bell Canada and Orange have also been involved. And recently the companies announced that ECOMP and Open Orchestrator Project are merging under the new Open Network Automation Platform Project of The Linux Foundation.)

Facebook has also been blazing the trail to white box technology. The company recent came out with an open DWDM transport solution called Voyager. Facebook has contributed the Voyager blueprint to the Telecom Infra Project via the Backhaul: Open Optical Packet Transport project group, so any supplier or other party can build to it.

But Facebook has already introduced the first Voyager product. As with the AT&T effort, the maiden voyage for this Facebook optical white box effort includes semiconductor outfit Broadcom and open source software company SnapRoute. Subsystem provider Acacia Communications, hardware provider Celestica, optical and photonic company Lumentum were also involved in building the first Voyager solution, which Equinix and MTN have successfully tested.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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