Dell opens up networking base software with OS10

The new Dell networking OS is initially aimed only at large data centres, with the current campus OS6 and data centre OS9 continuing, but longer term, OS 10 will become the core system for all of Dell networking.

Jeff Baher_Headshot

Jeffrey Baher, Executive Director, Dell Networking

Dell has been a strong supporter of open networking for some time. However, until now open networking has meant only the detaching of the software from the hardware. Dell is now taking open networking a step further, becoming the first vendor in the space to open up its base system software, replacing it with an unmodified Linux kernel that will make it even easier to work with third-party applications and spur networking innovation.

“Networking software used to be inextricably tied to the hardware, and now with open networking, the software is no longer tied to the switching platform,” said Jeffrey Baher, Executive Director, Dell Networking. “This has meant that the networking vendor no longer has to solve every use case, and the ability to get software from a different vendor has led to the introduction of new software vendors now, with more pinpointed solutions and use cases.”

Still, Baher acknowledged that while the first wave of open networking now allows customers to buy their switch from one vendor and the software from another vendor, the software itself has been a single package.

“This allows the breaking up of that single software package, and no one else does that,” he said. “What we are doing here is like double-clicking on open networking, to find things that we can further disaggregate, to identity and address problems a lot more quickly.”

A key differentiation with the Dell OS10 is that it uses an unmodified Linux kernel and distribution.

“This was a philosophical decision we made early on, to have more of an infrastructure OS,” Baher said. “A lot of others modify the Linux kernel as well as tie it to the application.”

The OS10 base system software, which is free, has also been decoupled from the L2/L3 protocol stack and services, so that the user no longer has to use Dell’s routing protocols. If the user wants that Dell stack, it is a separate component, OS10 Premium, and is not free.

Programmability and portability have also been enhanced with the use of SAI (Switch abstraction interface) and CPS (control plane services). The SAI specification was submitted by Dell along with Microsoft and other contributors to the Open Compute Project last July.

“SAI is critical in how it connects the base software to the agnostic framework underneath,” Baher said. “It makes the OS silicon-independent, which increases investment protection.” The CPS, which sits on top of this, facilitates application acceleration.

OS10 is being positioned initially for large-scale data centre operations – but the longer term plan is to broaden that out significantly.

“OS6 has been our campus OS, and OS9 has been for the data centre,” Baher said. “OS10 is an extension of both OS6 and OS9, but has been architected from the ground up with brand new software. In the long term, OS10 will be the mainline software for all the product sets. Today, and in the short term, it’s for large enterprises, and it will run in tandem with OS6 and OS9.”

The free OS10 base module, which includes Linux and all the underlying hardware abstraction, is scheduled to ship in March. The OS10 Premium, which adds the full L2/L3 stack and command line interface, is scheduled for beta in Q1. OS10 Premium with Dell’s S-Series top-of-rack switches is scheduled for general availability in Q3, with the Z series fabric switches later in the year.