Facebook just fired another big shot at Cisco

Facebook just fired another big shot at Cisco


Facebook just made major progress in its plans to build a whole new kind of computer network.

This news should be making Cisco very antsy.

On Tuesday, Facebook’s vice president of infrastructure, Jason Taylor, made several announcements at the Open Compute Project Summit in San Jose, California, spelling out how the company could topple Cisco’s dominance of the $23 billion ethernet switch market. He said:

1. The radical new network switch that Facebook invented for its own networks, called the Wedge, is now for sale through a company called Accton.

2. Those who buy the switch have a choice of two software vendors, both direct competitors to Cisco: Cumulus and Big Switch. Cumulus is particularly interesting. It is a startup founded by ex-Cisco engineering star JR Rivers. Big Switch is a player in a new technology called “software defined networking” that takes on Cisco.

Facebook Jason TaylorLinkedIn/Jason TaylorJason Taylor, Facebook’s infrastructure VP.

In other words, you can buy this alternative switch to Cisco, buy and load software, and plug it in.

3. Facebook has arranged it so anyone can easily create custom ethernet hardware switches. Only the biggest enterprises would want to do this. But any startup with an idea of how to take on Cisco now has a shortcut through the hardest, most expensive part.

To be specific: Broadcom has entered into an agreement with Facebook’s Open Compute Project to open-source some of its networking chips (a program called OpenNSL).

Broadcom makes the networking chips used by just about all the networking hardware vendors, including Cisco (though Cisco also designs its own application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) chips, a difficult and expensive thing to do). There’s a big trend in the industry to get away from custom ASICs such as the type Cisco makes and toward standard ones, mostly from Broadcom. That is how Facebook and many others can offer network switches inexpensively.

And Broadcom is standing by to plug these chips into its own competitor to Cisco, a switch called StrataXGS.

4. Facebook is also giving away free the software it invented to run on its Wedge using the Broadcom chips.

5. AND Facebook is also giving away the software it invented to watch these switches and sends alerts if they experience problems. This is a project called OpenBMC.

With this, Facebook is offering a truckload of technology that lets all users roll their own networking hardware and, more or less, become their own Cisco.

Of course it’s not that easy
Computer networking engineering takes a special kind of genius. That is why Accton, Dell, HP, and Juniper are also standing by to sell ready-made versions.

All of this is part of the Open Compute Project, spawned by Facebook a few years ago to revolutionize the way computer hardware is designed, built, and sold.

It has since become an industry phenom with huge companies involved including Apple, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, BofA, Capital One, Bloomberg, JPMorgan Chase, and Fidelity.

What does Facebook get out of this?
It gets a community of hundreds of companies and thousands of engineers freely helping it build faster, more efficient software to run its data centers.

Taylor says Facebook has saved over $2 billion in the past three years thanks to OPC.

Cisco CEO is nonchalant
John chambersCiscoCisco CEO John Chambers.

Cisco CEO John Chambers says he is not worried that Facebook’s plans will hurt his company’s dominance of the $23 billion ethernet switch market in any major way.

Cisco calls the switches from Facebook, Cumulous, and others “white label,” “white box,” or “merchant silicon-based switching,” networks, which means they use standard chips, mainly from Broadcom.

Chambers says Cisco is going to “crush” the kind of thing that Facebook is doing, because Cisco offers more than just network switches. It offers its customers a whole suite of stuff with their networks, such as computer security. It also makes some of the most reliable, best performing hardware on the market.

Cisco has also joined the OCP. It will be interesting to see what Cisco does with the membership and whether it contributes any technology to the project.

Chambers is right that customers will not quickly or lightly ditch their Cisco networks for this kind of thing. But they will be watching and experimenting.

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