Does Mark Zuckerberg Have Plans to Attack Cisco?

Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) has been talking about moving away from physical networking products and towards software-based “cloud” solutions for years now, but the company’s efforts may have to speed up. Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) might be trying to cut into the company’s core network hardware business. Facebook’s Open Compute Project has announced that it will look to create “a specification and a reference box for an open, OS-agnostic top-of-rack switch.” Techspot notes that Facebook already has big players on board with Intel (NASDAQ:INTCBroadcom (NASDAQ:BRCM), VMWare (NYSE:VMW) and others.

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While it may appear odd that a social media company is serious about developing an open, data-center-deployable hardware network switch, the company is very well-versed in networking technologies and data centers. Facebook has already contributed to open-source, high-performance website delivery technologies before. Alternative PHP Cache  is an very popular, open-source software project that allows website servers to accelerate the speed at which they can serve dynamically created webpages. The technology is scalable to data-center-sized deployments. Facebook’s engineers contributed to the open-source project, and Facebook.com uses the technology.

Frank Frankovsky — chairman and president of the Open Compute Project — recently wrote on the project’s website: “It’s our hope that an open, disaggregated switch will enable a faster pace of innovation in the development of networking hardware; help software-defined networking continue to evolve and flourish; and ultimately provide consumers of these technologies with the freedom they need to build infrastructures that are flexible, scalable, and efficient across the entire stack.” However, it is not only Facebook and the Open Compute Project lining Cisco up in their sights…

Intel has also taken aim at Cisco’s network switch business recently. The company’s new Intel Data Plane Development Kit for OpenVSwitch eliminates the need for proprietary network packet routing hardware and instead uses the CPUs in Intel-powered servers to handle the calculations. It is unknown at this point of Facebook’s data center network switch project if it will use Intel’s development kit, but Intel is a partner in the project. According to Intel, Verizon (NYSE:VZ) has already begun testing Intel’s software-based, network switch solution.

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But what does Facebook think it can bring to the table? The experience of deploying hardware in its data centers. Facebook’s vice president of hardware recently said via Ars Technica, ”Some of the things we’ve seen in off-the-shelf switch products lead me to believe that maybe the people that designed these switches have never been in a data center…For example, we have a row of cluster switches that exhaust heat into each other. I don’t know if it’s just because the thermal engineer never envisioned an entire row of these things stacked in one row, or whether they just didn’t know much about data center thermal dynamics.”

Expect Facebook’s new network hardware project to make an impact in the network hardware industry when a prototype is unveiled.

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