Microsoft has used the Open Compute Project (OCP) summit in the US to unveil a suite of software components to build network devices like switches for use in scale-out environments like the cloud.
At the same time, Google announced that it is joining the OCP to bring its own influence to bear on standardisation in IT infrastructure.
The OCP was started by Facebook in 2011, but has grown into a community of IT vendors working together to develop open standards for improved data centre infrastructure hardware and software.
Microsoft added its latest contribution at the OCP Summit 2016 in San Jose this week in the shape of a suite called Software for Open Networking in the Cloud (SONiC). This is a collection of software components that can be combined to implement network devices like switches.
It is essentially a modular framework for data centre networking needs that can run on switch hardware from various sources thanks to the OCP's Switch Abstraction Interface (SAI), an API layer that does away with the need for the software to be tightly integrated with the network hardware.
SONiC will allow cloud operators to take advantage of hardware innovation while offering a framework for developing applications on the network switch and the ability to integrate with multiple platforms, according to Microsoft.
SONiC sounds very similar to the Azure Cloud Switch (ACS) platform that Microsoft detailed last year, and which the firm is already operating in its own data centres from where it delivers Azure cloud services. In fact, it turns out that ACS is a superset of SONiC that builds on top of the suite with internal cloud management applications.
The headline-grabbing feature of ACS was that it was based on Linux, as is SONiC. It currently runs on Debian, but has been developed to be agnostic of any specific Linux distribution, according to Microsoft.
A platform like this is critical because cloud operators rely on high-speed, highly available networks to power their services, but it is also vital that network operators are able rapidly to add networking features as required.
"At Microsoft, we believe there are many excellent switch hardware platforms available on the market, with healthy competition between many vendors driving innovation, speed increases and cost reductions," said Kamala Subramaniam, principal architect for Azure networking.
"However, it is challenging to integrate the different software running on each different type of switch into a cloud-wide network management platform."
SONiC with the SAI API enables cloud operators such as Microsoft itself to exploit new hardware more quickly, while simultaneously operating on multiple platforms.
"SONiC brings together all the building blocks to form an open sourced, fully functional, secure and reliable cloud switch. It gives you the freedom to choose the hardware and software that is best suited to your networking needs," Subramaniam said.
Code and documentation for SONiC is available from GitHub.
Meanwhile, Google announced plans to join the OCP party and will contribute a new rack specification that includes 48V power distribution.
The firm has been developing 48V rack power distribution since 2010 after finding that this voltage was at least 30 percent more energy efficient and more cost effective in supporting higher-performance systems than its existing 12V power designs.
"Our 48V architecture has since evolved and includes servers with 48V to point-of-load designs, and rack-level 48V lithium-ion uninterruptible power supply systems," said Google technical programme manager John Zipfel on the Google Cloud Platform Blog.
"Google has been designing and using 48V infrastructure at scale for several years, and we feel comfortable with the robustness of the design and its reliability."
However, Google explained that this is just the first step in a larger effort, and that the company is collaborating with Facebook on a common 48V rack specification to be submitted for consideration by the OCP.
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