Think Facebook is just in the business of sharing pictures, updating statuses and working on digital advertising? Think again. The social media giant is a lot more tech focused than it might appear. It's been working on a number of interesting projects, from image recognition software and virtual reality to just recently announcing its plans to tackle computer networking and enter the ethernet switch market.
What is it?
Facebook's new network switch, called the Wedge, offers those who buy it the option of choosing two vendors, Cumulus and Big Switch. Facebook is also prepared to give away the software it designed to run its switches, as well as the software it created to watch these switches and send alerts. Essentially, Facebook is offering a lot of technology that lets almost anyone manage and customize their own networking hardware.
Why is it such a big deal?
Facebook's Wedge uses commodity hardware with an open-source operating system (OS) called FBOSS. This combination provides the flexibility of creating customized switching platforms for specific uses. For example, if the OS needs modifications to support features like custom software, FBOSS can be extended to meet those needs. All of this gives Wedge two important advantages that aren't found in traditional hardware. First, Wedge comes with the ability to swap in any server control module while still maintaining the feature set of the switch. Second, Wedge offers the monitoring capability that comes with a Linux-based OS.
What's in it for Facebook?
Offering free software is great for users, but you'd have to imagine that Facebook isn't completely altruistic. It too has to appeal to shareholders and maximize its revenue. Well, all of this dates back to its Open Compute Project (OCP), which was launched a few years ago as a means of changing the way computer hardware is designed, built and sold. For context, OCP is an open-source project that deals directly with data center project designs. It spawned from Facebook's efforts to redesign its data center in Prineville, Oregon back in 2011. Since then, it has become an industry phenom, with partners like Apple, Microsoft and Bloomberg all getting involved. Here's where the benefit comes in. Because it's an open-source project, there's a community of hundreds of companies and thousands of engineers freely helping contribute and build faster, more efficient software. This has saved Facebook over $2 billion since the project began.
How are competitor's responding?
With all of this hype, how are competitors reacting? Is Cisco, the dominant player in the ethernet switch market, shaking in its boots? According to a recent article in Business Insider, Cisco CEO John Chamber isn't fazed, and remains confident Cisco can crush Facebook's networking plans. Cisco is confident that their custom-made chips speak for themselves, outperforming the white box networks, like Wedge, that rely on standard chips. Not to mention, competitors like Cisco offer a number of other attractive features that come with their network solutions, like computer security.
Chambers is probably right for the moment. His customers aren't likely to abandon their Cisco networks for the Wedge any time soon. However, the open source, customizable benefits likely to stem from Facebook's innovation will be worth watching. It'll be interesting to see their influence on this market, and what new trends it'll set in motion. Furthermore, it'll be interesting to see how Cisco reacts down the road, after all, they are also members of the OCP movement.
Want to learn more?
If your organization is using Cisco switch technology, or you're considering upgrading your current hardware, it may be worthwhile to take a little extra time to investigate not only the options available, but how to use them. There are a number of IT certification training courses available to help administrators and IT professionals learn the fundamental concepts of networking, and then apply this knowledge to the configuration of a router and switch. This will help your organization maximize the potential of these devices, while limiting the learning curve associated with mastering this technology.