Facebook is constantly evolving as it has produced yet another computer network innovation that will once again increase the value of the $41 billion network tech industry.
And Facebook is planning to totally share it with the world for free, putting commercial network tech vendors on notice.
The new innovation revealed on Tuesday is called Backpack and it’s a second-generation computer switch, the successor to the one it released last year called the 6-Pack that directly challenged tech made by market leader Cisco (and others, like Juniper).
The difference between 6-pack and the projected Facebook Backpack is that Backpack is way, way faster.
The 6-Pack was a 40G switch, which means it could stream 40G worth a data around a data center network. The Backpack is an 100G optical switch, which means it’s 2.5 times faster, and using fiber optics to move data around instead of the traditional and more limited copper wires.
The Backpack is also a companion to the new switch Facebook announced last spring, called Wedge 100. The Wedge 100 is what’s known as a “top of rack” switch that connects a computer rack of servers to the network. The Backpack then connects all the Wedge 100 switches together. In network terms, this is known as a “network fabric.”
Facebook is attempting to build itself a fully 100G data center and these two pieces get it much of the way there, along with the network equipment it announced last week that put the telecom equipment industry on notice. It is obvious Facebook is on a serious takeover.
Available for sale in 2017
Two key things about this new switch is that, first, Facebook is turning it over to its game-changing Open Computer Project, which has a devoted following since it was launched by Facebook.
ReutersOCP is one of the companies that creates open source hardware, which allows engineers to freely take hardware designs and work on them together.
OCP offers various designs on racks, servers, storage drives and other hardware. Contract manufactures stand by to build them. LinkedIn is of the companies inspired by OCP to build their own hardware completely from scratch.
To make it easier, Facebook reached out to Accton to mass produce the devices so anyone can buy them. Facebook also open sources the software to run the switch, and partnered with other network startups to get their software to work on its switches
Omar Baldonado member of Facebook’s network engineering team said Facebook plans to do all of this for the Backpack, too.
“We anticipate it will follow same path. Later in 2017, people will be able to get a Backpack. We are working with the software eco-system, too. That’s why we are contributing ot OCP,” he said.
In creating Backpack, Facebook had to work with chip makers and optical materials manufacturers to create special chips and special optical fiber that makes the cost for the switches to be less expensive.
The optical switches available in the market today are not specifically used in the data center to connect servers together. They are used in the “Backplane,” the part of a network that stretches between data centers or across cities.
And because they’ve been targeted for metro-scale networks such switches tend to use more of power and are very expensive.
The Facebook team helped design a switch that uses less power and can operate at around 55-degree Celsius, Baldonado says, which has never been done before.
To bring costs down, this switch is modular, which means you can pull it apart and change parts, using different chips, different network cards and different software.
This Facebook innovative technology will lead to faster, cheaper, mind-blowing networks and data centers because one day we will all be using the social network to hang out in virtual reality, in addition to live-streaming more video.