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Open-Source Alternative for the Network Packet Broker

Network Packet Brokers (NPB) have been a critical component of the enterprise infrastructure for decades. They implement a range of tools to access, filter, and analyze traffic (a.k.a. network packets). NPB solutions collect packets from multiple links, filter them, and distribute them to tools specialized in performance monitoring, security analyses, and more by delivering packets specific to their needs. Typical NPB solutions are appliance-based, and proprietary in nature, making them expensive and inflexible. The cost of implementing such solutions in large data centers and edge networks can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more.

The evolution of application-driven networking has been lauded by many industry leaders. Recent advancements in ASICs have increased their programmability, TCAM scale, and introduced flexible matches and actions. This creates opportunities to disaggregate the software and hardware components for packet broker solutions while meeting the performance and capacity requirements of the enterprise.

Every data center in the world will deploy data processing units (DPU) to isolate the application layer from the control plane within five years. In every single data center, enterprise, or cloud, the control plane, and the application plane will be isolated. I promise you that.

How can disaggregation be achieved for Network Packet Brokers?

Before answering this question, we need to understand the core reason why NPB solutions are proprietary and appliance-based. Primarily it is the “unavailability” of a standardized NOS (Network Operating System), allowing vendors to utilize and exploit the power of their ASICs to deliver the capabilities required by packet broker solutions.

With SONiC (Software for Open Networking in the Cloud), the open-source NOS, it is now possible to think of packet brokers as networking applications that harness the power of modern ASICs. SONiC has quickly become the standards-based open-source NOS that is being regarded as the “Linux of Networking” with support for over 100 SKUs across multiple ASICs. It provides a state-of-the-art microservices-based NOS architecture that paved the way for networking services as disaggregated applications on commodity hardware.

What may a disaggregated Packet Broker solution look like?

A network packet broker built using commodity switching hardware and open-source SONiC would be a truly disaggregated solution. NPB functions such as filtering, forwarding, and load balancing can be achieved using a programmable API, making such a solution truly software-defined. SDN (Software Defined Networking) principles can be used to program the ASIC with policies and services, such as filtering and traffic replication. The picture below provides a high-level depiction of a disaggregated packet broker.

Figure1: Disaggregated Packet Broker

What are the benefits of using a disaggregated Packet Broker solution?

First off, a disaggregated packet broker solution based on open-source NOS eliminates the proprietary appliances significantly reducing the CapEx and OpEx. Secondly, it allows for the choice of hardware to leverage available speeds (from 10GbE to 400GbE) at a fraction of the cost of typical NPB solutions. Thirdly, the open-source nature of such solutions allows for easy integration with commercial analyzers available for performance and security monitoring. Last, but not least, disaggregation allows for the repurposing of hardware that is typically discarded during the network refresh cycles, making the solution even more lucrative, especially at a time when the semiconductor shortage has crippled the network infrastructure upgrade initiatives.

The “Open Packet Broker” by Aviz

Aviz’s Open Packet Broker (OPB) is the industry’s first software-based containerized application built on top of the open-source SONiC to enable monitoring and security tools to access the network traffic. It is truly disaggregated because it can be deployed of your choice of Switch/ASIC hardware, as long as it supports SONiC. OPB enables you to easily scale up or down to meet the ever-changing needs of network visibility and security tools, empowering you to manage demand with maximum efficiency. To learn more about the Open Packet Broker schedule a demo.

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