Network Disaggregation – Why is it not the Same as Server Disaggregation?

 
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What is Server Disaggregation?

Today, customers may buy a server from HP, Dell or Lenovo and install their choice of Linux or Microsoft OS on the system. This separation of who they purchase their hardware from and who they purchase their software from is called disaggregation.

 

The State of the Server Market

The server industry is dominated by Intel processors. The single biggest moat Intel has is its x86 instruction set. Pretty much every major software is compiled and optimized for x86. Even if a vendor decides to recompile their application to another instruction set, there may be third party libraries that they use which are x86 optimized. With this instruction set moat, Intel wields tremendous market power. Intel rode Moore’s law and produced multiple generations of highly successful microprocessors. The server market is well served. The server capabilities are dictated pretty much by the processor capabilities and peripheral configurations. There is not much of differentiation between the servers from one vendor and a server with similar configuration from another vendor. Most server hardware is commodity today and there is fierce price-based competition.

 

 

What is Network Disaggregation?

The basic concept of disaggregation is similar to that in Servers. The idea is to give the choice of picking the best of breed, best fit hardware and software to the end customers. However, this similarity ends quickly and people who equate network disaggregation to the server equivalent often unnecessarily constrain their choices.

 

The State of the Network Market

The network market is dominated by a few dominant players who have strong existing relationship with OEM channels. However, the purchasing behavior in the industry is changing with disaggregated solutions and emerging independent software vendors. The industry operates on open standards and there is no x86 in the networking world yet. There is, however, an insatiable demand for high bandwidth, low latency wherein dominant solutions fall short of delivering. Before looking at the choice of Quanta versus Celestica while looking at a disaggregated network solution, customers must look inside into the underlying switch silicon. Most, if not all switches, will have a decent forwarding scale. However, the following three basic questions may be useful to gather insights that highlight the differences that are more fundamental:

  • Can the switch sustain line rate traffic?
  • Are all ports treated fairly under all conditions?
  • If you care about Network Virtualization, Does the switch support VXLAN routing?

The bottom line

Next time you look for a disaggregated switch solution, please look inside. Is it Mellanox Spectrum? Check out more details about our open Ethernet switches at: http://www.mellanox.com/ethernet/switches.php

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About Karthik Mandakolathur

Karthik is a Senior Director of Product Marketing at Mellanox. Karthik has been in the networking industry for over 15 years. Before joining Mellanox, he held product management and engineering positions at Cisco, Broadcom and Brocade. He holds multiple U.S. patents in the area of high performance switching architectures. He earned an MBA from The Wharton School, MSEE from Stanford and BSEE from Indian Institute of Technology.

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