How Open Can Networking Go? Dell’s Driving the Industry to Find Out

Today, we are very excited to announce a submission to the Open Compute Project (OCP). We’ve submitted a Switch Abstraction Interface (SAI) that enables a common language between vendor network operating systems (NOS) and the particular silicon residing on the physical switch. The submission is currently under review and we expect acceptance soon.

This is not how it used to be – prior to SAI each NOS had to write to the unique conversion code for each networking silicon. This is similar in concept to not having to worry whether an application is running on an AMD or Intel-based server.

SAI is a standardized API to express switch abstractions, and is extensible and programmer-friendly. It is open for third-party developers, who can build applications to help customers tailor their network equipment to meet unique infrastructure requirements. It also allows for granular control and better visibility into network operations, thus providing customers with choice and flexibility as well as fostering rapid innovation within the ecosystem.

Dell is a driving force behind this industry-first innovation. We were a leader in starting this conversation about SAI late last year within the OCP networking group, a consortium of technology leaders including large enterprises such as Microsoft, chip providers such as Broadcom, Intel and Mellanox as well as the large cloud operator Facebook and are very proud of our achievement in such a short time frame.

In addition, SAI will benefit the leading silicon vendors by providing them access to the broader addressable markets. Similarly, SAI will help the web-scale companies and cloud providers take advantage of the latest silicon innovation by enabling them to program the switches more granularly.

There was a broad industry coalition working on this project, including the following:

Big Switch Networks

“Community lead work like SAI is proof that the open software development model works.” said Rob Sherwood, CTO of Big Switch Networks.  “We look forward to supporting SAI on our Open Network Linux open source project.”


“Mellanox, through our Open Ethernet initiative, promotes the freedom to choose best fit hardware and software switching platforms and encourages other vendors to join such initiatives,” said Gilad Shainer, vice president of marketing at Mellanox Technologies. “By working with Dell and the OCP community, we provide the first hardware platforms that support integration switching software solutions over SAI.”


“Broadcom supports the adoption of the Switch Abstraction Interface (SAI) on our industry leading StrataXGS® switch portfolio,” said Eli Karpilovski, Product Marketing, Network Switch. “We are committed to the evolution of the SAI specification and other new open application projects to accelerate innovation.”


“As organizations adopt cloud computing, leverage intensive big data applications, and power an increasingly mobile workforce, they are placing unprecedented stress on their network,” said Kamala Subramaniam, Principle Architect, Azure Networking, Microsoft. “We are excited to partner with Dell and other leaders in the OCP networking community to deliver an open and accessible standard to enable greater control and flexibility of the network.”

Dell Networking is making technology more open and accessible to empower innovation for our partners and customers. Our Open Networking initiative, over the past year is a testament to our commitment to revolutionize the networking industry by disrupting the traditional, proprietary technologies.

Dell is an active member of theOCP Foundation, formed in 2011, which is designed to apply the benefits of open source software to hardware and rapidly increase the pace of innovation to hardware design and engineering in, near or around data center technologies. This echoes our vision of disaggregating the proprietary ‘black boxes’ to make the technology open for the benefit of our customers, partners and broader ecosystem.

We disrupted the traditional x86 server market a few years back, and as a result, now customers have the flexibility to run their applications using either Intel or AMD microprocessors.Likewise, by allowing disaggregation of networking switches, SAI will enable customers to take advantage of rapid innovation by deploying best-of-breed silicon as compared to custom-designed ASICs. With enhanced application portability, SAI also will provide customers with the choice of using the software that suits their requirements.

About the Author: Adnan Bhutta