Facebook to shake up data centre switch market

facebook data centre switch backpack

Approximately $6 billion worth of network switches are sold every quarter, according to statistics collated by IDC, which says the market is growing at a rate of 3 per cent annually. 

IDC’s study mainly looks at Layer 2 and Layer 3 switches.

Layer 2 switches pass data packets around a network based on the media access control or MAC addresses of the sending and receiving devices. Layer 2 switches tend not to route packets based on internet protocol addresses.

Layer 3 switches are often thought of “switch routers” or“routing switches”, and it’s at this level that data packets are distributed based on IP addresses.

Most corporate networks are built using a mix of Layer 2 and Layer 3 switches, and the leading vendor in this market is Cisco, according to IDC.

In the second quarter of 2016, Cisco was estimated to have approximately 57 per cent of market, says IDC. The leading companies in the research consultancy’s list are listed below.

IDC ethernet switch and router vendor revenue in second quarter of 2016

  1. Cisco ~ $3.4 billion
  2. Huawei ~ $390 million
  3. Hewlett-Packard Enterprise ~ $360 million
  4. Arista ~ $236 million
  5. H3C ~ $214 million
  6. Others ~ $1.4 billion

Source: IDC

As can be seen from the IDC data, Cisco has a commanding lead in the market.

However, a new innovation from a surprising source may change things in the coming year.

Not just a pretty Facebook

Facebook has launched something called Backpack (pictured), which the company describes as a modular switch platform, and says is compatible with open-source hardware, including its own earlier launch of “6-pack”, which was described at “the first open hardware modular switch”.

Facebook also recently launched Wedge 100, its second-generation top-of-the-rack network switch.

Used together, Facebook says its hardware innovations pave the way towards building the 100G data centre.

“As we migrate our infrastructure from 40G to 100G, we’re faced with several hardware design challenges,” says Facebook on its blog.

“Not only does our network need to run at a higher speed, but we also need a better cooling system to support 100G ASIC chips and optics, which consume significantly more power than previous generation components.

“Backpack is designed to meet both of these requirements while keeping our fabric design simple and scalable.”

Facebook, which has more than 1 billion users worldwide for its social media website, says it is anticipating a massive increase in data generated by video and virtual reality.

“With the onset of these new services, we need to make sure our global infrastructure is designed to handle richer content at faster speeds,” says Facebook.

“To meet these current requirements and any future bandwidth demands, we’re working toward the 100G data center.”

And while Facebook’s innovations are driven by its own data requirements, the company says it is contributing Backpack’s design to the Open Compute Project, a collaborative community which shares innovations in infrastructure design.