SAN JOSE, Calif. – Mellanox Technologies pledged it will support open source software for its Ethernet switches over the next several months. The chip and system provider hopes to gain an edge over larger competitors that are only partially embracing a trend to open software for Ethernet.
Mellanox dominates Infinband networking which has a tradition of mainly open source code but a relatively small market. It faces entrenched giants in larger Ethernet markets, many of them now resisting a push toward open source software.
As a starting point, Mellanox is supporting the so-called Quagga open source Layer 3 routing code on its Ethernet switches. Mellanox plans to release open source versions of its Layer 2 switching code and management software for its products in the next few months. It also aims to strike open source partnerships.
Mellanox expects to make its code available on broad licensing terms that don’t require users to post back any changes. It will not, however, make available as open source the firmware or some of the driver code for its chips.
“Firmware is part of the hardware and typically proprietary—it’s connected to the hardware, so there’s no reason to open it,” said Gilad Shainer, vice president of market development at Mellanox. “Part of the driver [code may be made] open, and part of it will remain closed because [it also is] dedicated to the hardware, so there is no reason to open it,” he said.
Mellanox is currently supporting an early version of OpenFlow, a protocol that lets software on servers control and manage network functions on switches and routers. The company also is working to support OpenFlow controllers from third parties including Floodlight, he said.
In recent announcements, large Ethernet switch makers such as Cisco Systemsand Ericsson took hybrid approaches, supporting both OpenFlow as well as their own protocols. The proprietary software will be better suited to access features in their underlying chips, the said.
They make their money on the hardware that they sell and the ASICs in there are fairly specific to them. Opening up their software stack is hardly a big step, most companies don't do it because their products can easily be cloned by nefarious manufacturers (this is quite common in China). If you have such a secure position that no one can copy your hardware (e.g Juniper & Cisco won't), then you can do this with impunity.
If this software actually helped commoditise the high end product then I would be happy, but I doubt it will.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.