Inside Advanced Scale Challenges|Wednesday, March 29, 2017
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Facebook, Partners Light Up Datacenter Nets 

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The steady enterprise shift to open source software and hardware is expanding to datacenter networking via a collaboration between Facebook and networking partners as part of an effort to promote an optical switch architecture designed by the social media giant to handle more data-intensive workloads.

Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) and interconnect specialist Equinix (Nasdaq: EQIX) said their networking collaboration stems from the Telecom Infra Project announced in February. The partners said they have been testing Facebook's packet-optical switches inside two Equinix datacenters.

The open source effort targets new datacenter architectures that would support fifth-generation, or 5G, networking, Internet of Things deployments and other future datacenter use cases. Testing of Facebook's optical networking switch called Voyager is underway at two Equinix datacenters in Silicon Valley.

The Voyager switch combines computing, switching and routing with DVDM (dense wavelength division multiplexing) transport technologies. "Preliminary results showed zero packet loss and significant overall cost savings due to this disaggregated hardware and software networking model," the partners said in a statement released on Tuesday (Nov. 1) during a project summit at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.

Hans-Juergen Schmidtke, Facebook's director of engineering, promoted the Voyager switch as "a first ever white box for switching, routing and DWDM" design to boost connectivity among datacenters.

The open source networking effort, similar to other Facebook initiatives such as the Open Compute Project (OCP), represents an early attempt to upgrade networking hardware and software. It builds on earlier initiatives to supply cloud and network service providers with platforms for developing new datacenter interconnect architectures.

The effort also seeks to provide a "physical aggregation point" for networking hardware and software as disaggregated optical networking emerges to provide greater speed and switching for growing data volumes, according to Equinix CTO Ihab Tarazi.

Equinix has tested Voyager over 140 km of production fiber, the partners said.

DWDM technology is used to combine data from different sources on optical fiber, with each signal carried simultaneously on a separate optical wavelength. The networking architecture allows many more channels of data to be multiplexed and transported on a single optical fiber. The technology essentially provides a much bigger data pipe with far higher transport rates.

The Telecom Infra Project launched earlier this year by infrastructure providers seeks to help datacenter operators keep pace with data-intensive services. "With video and [virtual reality] consumption on the rise, larger, better networks are needed," Jay Parikh, head of engineering and infrastructure at Facebook, noted in a blog post. "We’ll all need to work together to understand the specific connectivity challenges in each market and develop new technologies and processes to address those challenges."

Facebook's open source approach takes a page from OCP by "breaking apart the hardware and software components of the data center network stack to open up more flexibility and accelerate innovation, as we previously did with our racks, servers, storage, and motherboards in the datacenter," Parikh added.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 25 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as Executive Editor for Electronic Engineering Times.

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