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ASIC's communications days could be numbered

Posted: 23 Apr 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:ASICs? routers? switches? networking? processors?

The current 1.x versions of OpenFlow represent a compromise. "Ideally we would have started it as a generic match-and-action flow, but it had to be mapped on to existing chipsthe next generation will be more protocol independent," McKeown said.

Last year, the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) that oversees OpenFlow engaged ASIC makers in a so-called Forwarding Abstractions working group. It aimed to narrow the gulf between what OpenFlow wants to enable and what existing and planned ASIC do.

Now ONF is starting a new effort it calls a chip advisory board. "We will learn from them what's possible [in silicon], and out of that will emerge what's possible for the next generation of OpenFlow," he said

OpenFlow began using content-addressable memories as an intermediary to interface to router and switch ASICs, but the approach limited its functionality. More recently it has used a technique of matching multiple tables.

"The protocol independent version [of OpenFlow] will take awhile," McKeown said.

On the software side, the pieces of the code to enable software-defined networks are still emerging as are the people who will write it.

Start-ups including Big Switch Networks and Nicira, now part of VMWare, already have their own versions of OpenFlow controllers. Earlier this month, eighteen large comms and software vendors launched Open Daylight, an effort to create open source code for SDN controllers, the APIs for apps that ride on it and maybe more.

Observers expect the giants to jostle over whose code becomes part of Open Daylight. If a solid product emerges they say companies such as IBM will make money selling integration and services using itbut that could be two or three years away.

McKeown uses the metaphor of Posix, a standard set of APIs for what became Linux. It took a decade for the various flavours of the operating system to settle down to a stage that the Posix APIs could be written. The same may be true for the APIs the enable software-defined networking, he said.

- Rick Merritt
??EE Times

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