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Startup proposes fiber-based Glass Core as a bold rethink of data center networking

John Dix | Oct. 3, 2014
Fiber Mountain says it can deliver up to twice the capacity for half the price, in a compelling new software defined network approach.

Software Defined Networking (SDN) challenges long held conventions, and newcomer Fiber Mountain wants to use the SDN momentum to leap frog forward and redefine the fundamental approach to data center switching. The promise: 1.5x to 2x the capacity for half the price.

How? By swapping out traditional top of rack and other data center switches with optical cross connects that are all software controlled. The resultant "Glass Core," as the company calls it, provides "software-controlled fiber optic connectivity emulating the benefits of direct-attached connectivity from any port ... to any other server, storage, switch, or router port across the entire data center, regardless of location and with near-zero latency."

The privately funded company, headed by Founder and CEO, whose career in networking includes stints at ADC Telecommunications, 3Com,  Fujitsu BCS and General DataComm, announced its new approach at Interop in New York earlier this week. It's a bold rethinking of basic data center infrastructure that you don't see too often.

"Their value proposition changes some of the rules of the game," says Rohit Mehra, vice resident of network infrastructure at IDC. "If they can get into some key accounts, they have a shot at gaining some mind share."

Raza says the classic approach of networking data center servers always results in "punting everything up to the core" from top of rack switches to end of row devices and then up to the core and back down to the destination. The layers add expense and latency, which Fiber Mountain wants to address with a family of products designed to avoid as much packet processing as possible by establishing what amounts to point-to-point fiber links between data center ports.

"I like to call it direct attached," Raza says. "We create what we call Programmable Light Paths between a point in the network and any other point, so it is almost like a physical layer connection. I say almost because we do have an optical packet exchange in the middle that can switch light from one port to another."

That central device is the company's AllPath 4000-Series Optical Exchange, with 14 24-fiber MPO connectors, supporting up to 160x160 10G ports.  A 10G port requires a fiber pair, and multiple 10G ports can be ganged together to support 40G or 100G requirements.

The 4000 Exchange is connected via fiber to any of the company's top-of-rack devices, which are available in different configurations, and all of these devices run Fiber Mountain's Alpine Orchestration System (AOS) software.

That allows the company's homegrown AOS SDN controller, which supports OpenFlow APIs (but is otherwise proprietary), to control all of the components as one system. Delivered as a 1U appliance, the controller "knows where all the ports are, what they are connected to, and makes it possible to connect virtually any port to any other port," Raza says. The controller "allows centralized configuration, control and topology discovery for the entire data center network," the company reports, and allows for "administrator-definable Programmable Light Paths" between devices.


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