It is time to acknowledge the data center as the new unit of computing. Given the AI workloads that are now exploding, the amount of data that is required simply no longer fits into the confines of a single server.

Let’s look at how this fresh approach to computing works. If you go back to the old days, the CPU was the main unit of compute. Under the new model, the CPU has been joined by the GPU, and now the DPU as the third element of data center computing. This creates the need for an underlying fabric that sits beneath all these elements, tying them together. This is where open networking comes in.

We might be talking about the Linux-based network operating system created by Cumulus. Or there’s SONiC, the Microsoft-sponsored open network platform. Whatever the case, this connecting fabric needs to demonstrate super high performance, delivers very low latency and be both invisible and easy to manage. The right kind of open networking brings the potential to do all those things, while at the same time removing vendor lock-in.

Keeping things open

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If you go down a path of proprietary networking fabrics, you might not even realize you’re being locked in until it’s too late. Suddenly you are using some new capability that’s being offered which turns out to be unique to the one vendor that sold it to you. True open networking avoids that. It gives you not only flexibility, performance, and ease of management, but also vendor choice as well.

So what do I mean by ‘true’ open networking’? I mean you need to beware claims of openness that aren’t backed by reality. You really need to look at the vendor and ask if they are embracing open networking just in name but not in actuality. There are plenty of people out there who will tell you ‘Here’s our open networking portfolio, but look at all these other products we can offer.' Before you know it, they’ve steered you down the proprietary path. Next thing you’re on a track that locks you into a single vendor, and won’t let you change and use alternatives. If you drill down, you’ll probably find there’s a long track record in how that company embraces ‘openness.'

Openness is not just about just saying you’re open, it’s about actually embracing openness.

As an enterprise, open networking gives you an opportunity to either innovate for yourself, or use third parties that can drop containerized extensions on top of an existing software platform. This way you can increase the velocity of your own development. We’ve done demonstrations where we’ve dropped new virtualized technology in the form of an overlay on top of SONiC. We did that in conjunction with Microsoft at OCP a couple of years ago as a way of extending the functionality of SONiC.

This is the vision of open networking – it gives you freedom of choice on the compute side as well as the networking side. It all comes back to the idea of ‘data center as the new unit of computing’. If you have all this powerful processing power in the form of CPUs, GPUs, and DPUs, the last thing you want is for it to sit there waiting for data. Open networking provides a balanced system. If the data center is the computer then the programmatic framework and fabric that is connecting everything together really needs to be fast and flexible. And that’s what open networking delivers.