I was at the Open Compute Project Summit last week where the news broke about expanded details on the Open Compute Project.


While OCP is focused on making servers more flexible, it also will have an impact on data center networking. If you want to know more about OCP, this InfoWorld article has some good details.


What I want to concentrate on are the networking aspects of the proposed new system. In a nutshell, the OCP initiative will result in new standards for interoperable components (like processor boards, power supplies, etc.) that allow more flexibility in server designs. So you could imagine a common processor slot, for instance, that allows a company to define a very granular level of processing power.


On the networking front, the OCP proposal envisions a board-level switch that has a network connection to each processor / microserver on the board, with another network connection of up to 100 Gbps based on Intel®’s silicon photonics technology. This provides a fast, very low latency connection for up to 50 meters, easily reaching access switches.


So what happens to top-of-rack switches? Nothing … for now. First off, many commentators say that OCP equipment could be limited to large Internet and cloud service providers – like OCP founder Facebook. And thus, the TOR switch will remain in other data center networks indefinitely.


Even if that is not the case, there are still several years before OCP-based network servers will hit the market, as the Open Compute Project is still building out its ecosystem and talking to partners about the details of the various server components.


That leaves TOR switches, like our SeaCliff Trail 10G/40G top-of-rack switch reference design, as the chief building block for data center networks.


But this new architecture has a lot of promise and so companies concerned about the future transition to OCP switches should look again at their plan for deploying software-defined networking (SDN).


Because SDN moves network flow control and management from within the switches to a controller on a server, it can easily integrate SDN-enabled OCP systems into the network and allow data centers to migrate to the new architecture at their own speed.