Broadcom Unveils OpenNSL Platform for Network Switches

Broadcom this week announced OpenNSL, a software platform that enables the development of applications on top of Broadcom’s StrataXGS network switches.

The platform, which is targeted at original equipment manufacturers, independent software vendors, and network operators, consists of a set of APIs that align to Broadcom’s SDK. According to Broadcom, the OpenNSL platform enables “the integration of new applications and the ability to optimize switch hardware platforms. This gives users the freedom to control their technology, share their designs, and boost application innovation.” 

Using the OpenNSL platform, a developer can build custom functionality for a variety of applications, including network monitoring, load balancing, and workload optimization. To assist developers, Broadcom has made an OpenNSL library available on Github

Companies participating in the OpenNSL ecosystem include companies such as Microsoft and Facebook. The latter is best known for its software – it runs the world’s largest social network – but serving billions of users has required the company to look to optimize its hardware stack. The most prominent example of this is Facebook’s Open Compute Project, which spun out of its development of custom data center equipment, including servers and racks, which Facebook says have produced over a billion dollars in cost savings.

Similar innovation may be possible on the networking front. “The disaggregation of the network stack increases programmability and provides flexibility for better control and management of the network,” Facebook vice president of network engineering, Najam Ahmad, explained. “Open access to the Broadcom SDK is a big win for the industry — it promotes an ecosystem of open technology development and provides people with more choice when building their network.”

APIs Just as Important to Enterprise Hardware

While enterprise hardware-related APIs may not generate the level of buzz seen with consumer-oriented APIs, Ahmad’s comments allude to the fact that APIs are increasingly important to hardware manufacturers like Broadcom. It’s all but impossible for even the largest, most innovative hardware manufacturers to build a software layer that addresses every customer application. There are just too many potential use cases, many specific to particular verticals — or even companies. 

With open APIs and platforms like OpenNSL, hardware manufacturers can ensure that customers with the most demanding needs, such as Facebook, can address their needs internally. Today, open APIs are an important source of differentiation for hardware manufacturers, but as industry leaders like Broadcom roll them out, it’s not hard to imagine a future in which all hardware manufacturers will be expected to offer them.

 

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