Menlo Park, Calif. — Facebook engineers will review competing proposals from Broadcom and Netronome at an invitation-only engineering summit at the social networking giant's headquarters here on Tuesday, August 13. The chip companies are responding to Facebook's call for a software defined network (SDN) switch it hopes to deploy early next year.
Separately, Facebook expects to have in production in a few months its first systems to use an Intel Atom-based SoC. The storage controller will use Intel's upcoming Avoton chip.
Facebook is in a race with its rivals such as Google to make its warehoused-sized datacenters low cost to run and easy to manage. Google revealed early last year that it has already built its own SDN switches to streamline a wide-area network linking its datacenters. Facebook is taking a different route to SDN, aiming initially at the top-of-rack switch.
"We want something that behaves much like a computer server with a BIOS that on boot-up that looks for an executable operating system so you can load up whatever you want," said Najam Ahmad, director of network engineering at Facebook. "It could be a Windows box today, a Linux box tomorrow, a traditional switch or an SDN component," he said.
Big datacenters such as Facebook and Google see software control as key to simplifying to job of managing their vast networks. So far, the Broadcom proposal appears to have the inside track, but Facebook is still seeking clearance to discuss the spec with the rest of the group of at least seven contributing vendors at the summit.
Netronome's proposal calls for use of its chip with integrated PCI Express interfaces, something Facebook aims to consider in a subsequent phase. As a measure of the speed of the work, Ahmad said he aims to deploy within six months a top-of-rack switch based on the group's final spec.
In a second phase, the group will define an aggregation switch. A third phase looking 18 months out will consider options such as using PCI Express for networking in the rack -- something already being explored in Facebook's lab -- or silicon photonics, announced at a Facebook event in January.
Today, Facebook uses top-of-rack switches that typically support 40 servers and use 48 to 54 10-Gbit/second Ethernet ports. A few systems currently in use employ 40GE uplinks, but most are still at 10G, he said.
Other contributors to Facebook's switch effort include Big Switch Networks, Intel, the OpenDaylight group, the Open Networking Foundation, VMware, and Cumulus Networks, which is supplying boot-loader software.
A crop of low-power server SoCs are on the way from both Intel and partners of ARM. Intel will get the first design win for one of the parts at Facebook, but it will be used in an embedded server.
Facebook is now testing Intel's Atom-based Avoton as a microserver acting as a serial-attached storage controller in its Open Vault, a tray of hard disk drives in a computer rack. "Essentially it turns a JBoD [just a bunch of disks] into a storage server," said Frank Frankovsky, head of hardware design and supply chain for Facebook.
Intel and Calxeda pitched competing chips for the roll in Facebook's data centers. Facebook picked the Intel chip "only because we need the 64-bit addressing," Frankovsky said. "But it by no means we are giving up on ARM-based SoCs" such as Calxeda, he added.
Facebook currently has samples of three ARM-based server SoCs in its labs, including chips from Calxeda and Marvell, Fankovsky said.
Meanwhile, Facebook is developing certification programs so the systems it designs as part of the Open Compute Foundation that Frankovsky chairs can be used by others. Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute has agreed to set up the first certification lab. Space could be ready in a few weeks, though test suites will take longer to complete.
Separately, Cannonical contributed a software tool that Facebook will release for an self-certification program. The foundation expects to hire a director of certification to run global program and is actively seeking candidates.