Rockport Networks Launches Switchless Network Architecture

Rockport Networks has announced the commercial availability of its new switchless network architecture. This Rockport Switchless Network replaces centralized switch architectures with a distributed, high-performance direct interconnect that is self-discovering, self-configuring and self-healing. It would also be simple and transparent to operate.

The Rockport Switchless Network would offer a completely new design, using “breakthrough” software and data-routing techniques to overcome congestion, delivering predictable performance improvements compared to centralized switch-intensive networks.

The Rockport Switchless Network delegates network switching to endpoint devices (nodes), which thus become the network. The Rockport Switchless Network would free-up substantial rack space for compute and storage, as well as power, cooling, and administrative overhead, by removing layers of switches.

“Rockport was founded based on the fact that switching, and networking in general, is extremely complicated. Over the years, this complexity has forced organizations to make tradeoffs when it comes to performance at scale, so we decided to make it simpler,” said Doug Carwardine, co-founder and CEO of Rockport Networks. “We made it our mission to get data from a source to a destination faster than other technologies. Removing the switch was crucial to achieve significant performance advantages in an environmentally and commercially sustainable way.”

Patented Approach

Photo Doug Carwardine, co-founder and CEO of Rockport Networks
“Rockport was founded based on the fact that switching, and networking in general, is extremely complicated,” said Doug Carwardine, co-founder and CEO of Rockport Networks.

Rethinking network switches opens-up the possibility of utilizing direct connection topologies, which provide a connectivity mesh in which any network endpoint may effectively transmit traffic to each other, stated Rockport. The Rockport Switchless Network is a high-performance interconnect that provides pre-wired supercomputer topologies over a regular plug-and-play Ethernet interface.

The Rockport Network Operating System (rNOS) is the software that operates at the heart of the Rockport Switchless Network and is completely offloaded from the compute cores and server operating system. The network can self-discover, self-configure, and self-heal thanks to the rNOS. This patented approach selects and continuously optimizes the best path through the network to minimize congestion and latency. It also breaks down packets into smaller pieces (FLITs) to ensure high-priority messages are not blocked by large messages or bulk data transfers, similar to how a navigation application for data does.

The Rockport Switchless Network is designed to quickly integrate into current and developing data centers, and it installs in a fraction of the time it takes to cable standard switch-based networks. It will work in any form factor because it is an embeddable architecture.

At this moment, three key components are used to install and administer the software:

  • The Rockport NC1225 – The NC1225 is a network card that replaces regular network interface cards (NICs) in servers and storage enclosures, as well as traditional network fabric layers of switches. It uses 300 Gbps of available network capacity to adaptively combine the bandwidth of numerous parallel network channels.
  • The Rockport SHFL – With a single optical device, the SHFL removes months of wire. This revolutionary passive cabling technology allows end users to construct sophisticated supercomputing network topologies in a fraction of the time it takes to implement switched networks. The Rockport SHFL comes in a variety of configurations to make scaling out networks a breeze.
  • The Rockport Autonomous Network Manager (ANM) – The ANM provides a comprehensive picture of the active network as well as detailed insight. It continually monitors all parts of the network and archives data for 60 days, with the most recent seven days recorded with high fidelity inside the timeline.

“When the root of the problem is the architecture, building a better switch just didn’t make sense,” said Matt Williams, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Rockport Networks. “With sophisticated algorithms and other purpose-built software breakthroughs, we have solved for congestion, so our customers no longer need to just throw bandwidth at their networking issues. We’ve focused on real-world performance requirements to set a new standard for what the market should expect for the fabrics of the future.”

According to Rockport, its technology would deliver significant TCO, sustainability and security benefits including:

  • Eliminating the need for redundant devices for reliability
  • De-materializing and de-carbonizing the data center, reducing carbon footprint
  • Requiring “between 34% and 69%” less energy consumption when compared to switch-based technologies
  • Eliminating “up to 72%” of cabling requirements
  • Reducing rack space and weight in the network “by as much as 77%”
  • Defending against security breaches by re-optimizing data pathways on a regular basis

The Rockport Switchless Network is already being implemented by clients such as the University of Texas Advanced Computing Center after a lengthy beta program for cloud service providers (CSPs), elite government and university research laboratories (TACC). In addition, Rockport is collaborating with industry groups, such as Ohio State University (OSU), to contribute to performance-intensive networking standards.

“Our mission is to provide the advanced computing community with standard libraries such as MVAPICH2 that support the very best possible performance available in the market. We make it a top priority to keep our libraries fresh with innovative approaches, like Rockport Networks’ new switchless architecture,” said DK Panda, professor and distinguished scholar of computer science at the Ohio State University, and lead for the Network-Based Computing Research Group. “We look forward to our ongoing partnership with Rockport to define new standards for our upcoming releases.”