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White-Box Switches: Are You Ready?
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Susan Fogarty
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Susan Fogarty,
User Rank: Strategist
8/20/2014 | 1:17:56 PM
Re: Tom and the financial guys are right.
Todd, thanks for weighing in here. We really appreciate you taking to time to share all these technical details. The point that there are two different arguments going on here is important -- I know we try to be concise, since we are after all "commenting," but it's very easy to lose both the big picture and the specifics. Especially with topics that require a good deal of explanation. This info is helpful.
toddmcraw
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toddmcraw,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/20/2014 | 11:52:39 AM
Tom and the financial guys are right.
Disclaimer: I work for Cumulus Networks and have 14 years+ working for hw vendors

 

Interesting discussion... I wanted to add that both Tom H. and the financial HFT guys seem correct but they are talking about different things. I work directly with many of these customers and bare-metal is very popular in finance, web-scale and enterprise for capex reasons and for opex related to having an open source customizable OS.

HFT/Algo or trading generally needs the intel fulcrum chipset or something like the Cisco 3000 with warp because it has the lowest latency and the features they need like multicast and NAT. Trading in general is very multicast heavy and needs protocols like PIM. A customizable open source OS may be interesting so that they can add certain custom monitoring or analysis tools or provide some special methods of failure detection. This is probably extremely rare though. Almost all of the functions are provided by hw and all that matters from the sw is that it be stable and update the hw as quickly as possible. There may be control plane optimizations here but I doubt it would be much different than on any other switch (why would you improve protocol convergence on one platform and not do it for all?). The only unique sw would be related to the special ASIC features  (i.e. Warp which is really a hw feature you turn on) and how they have to manage any sw structures for those features. Any ASIC is a combination of hw, firmware microcode and software working together.  In finance today, you generally see bare-metal in modeling and compute farms or application/web services.

The most common usecases for a bare-metal open source OS are to only use the processes you need for a more stable platform. Use proven open source code that you control and can modify if you have the desire/skills. Use your existing automation tools for servers and your server boot environment to provision switches in the same manner as servers (ZTP). A more rare usecase is to customize the OS to perform functions that cannot be done on regular switches easily. Support and function of server automation tools on vendor switches is usually very poor compared to doing it on a Linux OS but there is a lot of effort to improve this. There can be substantial capex and opex savings.

Controversial part: This is all being done by progressive organizations but the tools and skills are filtering down to everyone and it is becoming very common. The majority of data centers will be a highly automated commodity environment within the next 5 years or your CFO will use a highly automated commodity cloud like AWS instead. It doesn't take incredible vision to see this coming. It has already happened in servers and it destroyed some great companies. The days of making the network smart and expensive and the application dumb are over. The network should be cheap and simple (preferably L3 Clos) and the application smart.

 

Furthermore, my limited understanding of Facebook, Google, etc. is they are doing special customizations of the switch OS related to how they manage their data and workloads, provide security, etc. This requires lots of expertise and only is valuable at large scale and with very smart developers and operators.

 

 AbeG/Pablo: This is SUPER Attractive to large organizations btw.

 

 
Susan Fogarty
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Susan Fogarty,
User Rank: Strategist
8/1/2014 | 9:29:07 AM
Re: Play The Ball, Not The Man
Well said, jg! Our goals are for the discussion to focus on the actual material posted, rather than the person who wrote it. Of course, everyone's background influences their point of view, but we expect members to take the high road They generally do, but sometimes go a bit astray.
jgherbert
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jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
7/31/2014 | 11:55:54 PM
Play The Ball, Not The Man
Whether you happen to agree with every point raised, I do feel that Tom has raised some interesting issues that have generated some truly interesting discussion in these comments, and the information and opinions have enhanced the value of the article as a result as it has given everybody a chance to dive deeper than the (undoubtedly word-limited) article could in the first place. So thanks all for the conversation and experience sharing.

As for whether Tom should put his CCIE in his bio, well why not? He earned it, and it demonstrates that he has a capacbility with Cisco products. *shrug*
Jason Lackey
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Jason Lackey,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/29/2014 | 2:41:42 PM
Re: Tom is talking about things he doesn't know about.
Full Disclosure - I work at Pluribus Networks

 

Great to see the world of networking awakening to outside the box alternatives, even in the world of financial trading. Interesting to see mention of FPGAs, one of our customers specifically looked at FPGAs but did not go down that path because the time to market in terms of having someone reprogram when some rules/algorithms changed was too long, good performance but not really agile. They were however, able to get perfectly acceptable performance out of our boxes.

Here's the Lucera Case Study on this very topic for those interested and here's a perspective on Pluribus/Wedge and for those interested in more on our take on a network hypervisor/operating system, here's our CTO deconstructing Netvisor, the Pluribus network hypervisor.
Serrad
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Serrad,
User Rank: Strategist
7/29/2014 | 7:50:56 AM
Re: Tom is talking about things he doesn't know about.
@EtherealMind - After a conversation with my Arista rep, MOST Arista platforms don't even support VOQs.  Only the 7500E and the 7280 do which are not the platforms used in most trade plants.  Your agrument doesn't have much relevance.   

 

@Tom - How can you not think of HFT when you think of financial trading.  The majority of trades in the market today are by HFT and Algo traders.  You attended a convention with some people from financial firms and this is what you base your "facts" on?  Really?  Listen, I know from the outside looking in that this sounds reasonable but I can tell from the perspective of working for 3 banks in the past 14 years and all of which are doing HFT and Algo trading that no one I've seen or heard of at the bank is dedicating resources to removing "unneeded processes" in the switch to increase performance.  Yes, there are problems that banks are looking to solve programmatically but few of that will be in the actual trading plant.  I personally am working on building a new agile environment for our developers and building a private cloud with white boxes is very appealing but these are not trading apps (though some may be used for RISK).  And none of these off the shelf SDN OSs (like Big Switch, etc...) support multicast (PIM) which is a requirement to get your market data.  Keep going to those conferences but don't think that they give you a clear indication as to what banks are doing.
AbeG
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AbeG,
User Rank: Ninja
7/28/2014 | 7:24:30 PM
Re: Depends on IT resources
This somewhat reminds me of the DD-WRT software that you can use to flash your home router with.  A recent trend in the consumer market is to offer routers that embrace open source firmware like DD-WRT and some come with it pre-installed.
AbeG
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AbeG,
User Rank: Ninja
7/28/2014 | 7:22:29 PM
Re: Depends on IT resources
I agree with Pablo.  I can't imagine this sort of thing being attractive to large organizations.
DavidS327
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DavidS327,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/28/2014 | 6:42:19 PM
Re: Tom is talking about things he doesn't know about.
Very interesting stuff with FBOSS.  I'll have to read more about that.

I'm quite familiar with the Arista boxes.  In my world packets need to be switched at line rate(nano seconds).  If packets are being queued then it is time to upgrade your links to 40 0r 100Gig.  VOQs introduce jitter and this is unacceptable.  My developers will call me about the jitter faster then I can get any reading from LANZ.  We joke of replacing our SNMP trap collectors because they are too slow ;) 

I still stand by what I originally stated in that removing software process does NOT create resources for switching.  I agree that driver type functionality of writing ACL, FIB, QoS, etc tables to TCAM can be optimized but these events do not happen in stead state.  The goal is to run in a steady converged state during market hours and after market do your maintenance (add ACLs, Routes, etc.).  Yes there are failures during the day and as a result FIBs will update but it is understood that you will have packet loss and jitter when these events happen.

I read Tom's statement about customizing the Network OS for financial trading as the owner of the switch doing this (like a bank) in a devops model.  I did not read this as a vendor has performed this optimization action like Arista.  His article is pitching the pro's and con's of white boxes.  Not vendor hardware/software solutions.

I will also say it again.  While Tom is a smart guy, he should stick with what he knows.  CCIE stands for Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert.  If you are going to call yourself the Expert and on top of that, publish articles as an Expert, then you should be sure you are reporting facts and not fantasy.    

 
NetworkingNerd
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NetworkingNerd,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/28/2014 | 6:32:33 PM
Re: Tom is talking about things he doesn't know about.
David,

You are absolutely right.

High Frequency Trading (HFT) is a very specialized application/workload that prizes performance over extensibility.  Being able to push a packet out a few nanoseconds faster could mean the difference between making money and losing big.  The appeal of whitebox switching to those customers is negligible at best.  They have lots of money and are willing to sacrifice as much as it takes to get the performance they desire.  The Nexus 3548 "Warp Mode" is perfect example.

I wasn't thinking of HFT when I talked about financial trading.  Instead, I was looking more at the discussions coming out of the Spring Open Networking User Group meetings in NYC, which are heavily attended by financial firms and have a great emphsis on solving problems through the use of open networking.  The appeal of whitebox switching to these companies is high, given the sponsorship of the event by Big Switch Networks and Cumulus Networks.  The advantages of extensibile, programmable platforms would appeal greatly to these finanicial customers.

More specifically, Lucera (https://lucerahq.com) is working with Pluribus Networks (http://www.pluribusnetworks.com/news-and-events/press-releases/detail/20140624-pluribus-networks-brings-the-server-switch-paradigm-into-the-broader-commercial-market-at-white-box-economics/) to use open networking and commodity switching hardware in financial trading.  Their ONUG presentation was very interesting indeed.
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