Open-NFP, an organization recently founded by networking solutions provider Netronome, recently announced the launch of a new cloud-based laboratory for the research and development of software-defined networks (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) apps.

Open-NFP is a worldwide, community-driven consortium focused on research and development in datapath offloads and acceleration for SDN and NFV applications that has placed heavy emphasis on the emerging programming language P4, used primarily in the networking industry. The lab will utilize Netronome’s newly launched integrated development environment (IDE), which is connected to a pool of servers with its recently released Agilio intelligent server adapters (ISAs), and support P4 development tools from the P4 Language Consortium

Despite all the acronyms and developer-specific language, the announcement is intriguing for networking programmers and developers in the channel. IDEs provide a single visual environment that enhances a developer's productivity in all stages of code and product development. In the design and development stage, IDEs provide tools to easily author code that is more likely to perform accurately by providing tools for and feedback to the designer. When debugging code, IDEs provide a wealth of information on the internal state of the code base that aid a designer in rapidly locating and fixing code errors. This helps developers code faster and pinpoint major data center operational issues such as poor application performance.

“In the new cloud data center workspace, as well as academia where relevant research is being conducted, software developers are making the decisions on what products to use for their cloud-based deployments or research projects,” Sujal Das, Netronome’s senior vice president and general manager of marketing and corporate strategy, told The VAR Guy. “They want to have full control and flexibility over what the networking hardware should do or how it should behave to fit their application requirements. They need to be able to develop and test new networking hardware behavior over the cloud. Open-NFP conforms to these workplace shifts.”

Specifically, Das says that Open-NFP’s goal is to significantly reduce the time and costs related to concept development, design and implementation of new research ideas for data plane network functions acceleration on production server networking hardware. The tools and support available from Open-NFP enable researchers to explore more ideas with less effort. Implementing and validating on real and production quality hardware make it more likely that their research will work and scale on large networks in cloud and enterprise data centers. 

There’s no doubt that Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and software-defined data centers comprise a quickly growing IT market segment. In IaaS deployments, rapid innovations are taking place in the realm of networking software that run on servers, close to virtual machines. This is the essence of server-based networking, and Das thinks it’s the future of the data center.

“With networking speeds increasing to 10GbE and higher, server networking software running on general purpose CPUs cannot scale and consumes too many CPU resources, starving applications and reducing output per server by a sixth or more,” he says. “As a result, IaaS deployments will see increased use of server networking hardware that accelerates server networking software, frees up the CPU resources for applications and maintains operator control and flexibility by enabling them to change the behavior of networking hardware at the speed of software.”

In addition to the cloud-based lab, Open-NFP is also announcing a bi-weekly series of summer webinars focused on P4.