Who is Corsa?
Corsa Technologies is a manufacturer of high-speed, programmable switches featuring field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) inside. Corsa does not position their gear in leaf-spine data center core topologies, where the packet forwarding needs tend to be simple and the hardware choices plentiful. Rather, Corsa switches play best at the WAN edge of networks such as ISP cores, Internet exchanges, metro networks, and large data centers where there are needs for high bandwidth, deep buffering, QoS, scheduling, shaping, and programmability.
FPGAs provide customers with platform flexibility, as the silicon can be programmed to perform packet manipulation in customer-specific ways, or (eventually) in ways that haven’t yet been thought of by the industry. Corsa boxes also have merchant silicon to support less interesting packet forwarding requirements, but the fully programmable FPGAs allow for complex packet manipulation to happen in whatever ways are deemed necessary by the customer.
Early on, Corsa hardware was focused on OpenFlow to program the forwarding plane, but Corsa has moved away from that central focus while remaining involved in OpenFlow development and in work with the ONF. Corsa gear still supports OpenFlow, but they emphasize programmability via APIs that allow the gear to tightly integrate into an organization’s SDN or configuration automation strategy, as well as meet unusual forwarding requirements.
What did they announce?
On May 12, 2016, Corsa has announced their second generation routing and switching platform, the DP2000. This 10G/100G box was built to address specific customer requirements.
Bringing a manageable service up quickly is one of those requirements, the idea being to not only deploy but also manage network services on demand. Spinning up a service in seconds is nice, but a bit of a headache if the service can’t be managed.
Yet another requirement is for management and control over the hardware via standards-based open interfaces. While there’s a few customers who might want to leverage P4 or OpenFlow, most want to deal with the ODL SAL, ONOS Flow Objectives, or Corsa’s own REST API.
The DP2000 goes after these requirements, while also meeting the table stakes objectives of WAN scale bandwidth, deep buffering, switching, routing, and MPLS services, as well as per flow monitoring and statistics. On top of that, the programmable silicon sets the DP2000 apart from many other switches in this space. Corsa describes it as, “hardware that enables services, not hardware that dictates services.”
Corsa described their network virtualization as switch or router virtual context overlays. I found that terminology roughly analogous to VRFs or perhaps VDCs in Cisco parlance.
Corsa claims that the DP2000 performance levels don’t degrade even when multiple overlays are mapped to the same hardware resources. When I gently pressed Corsa to explain how this particular unicorn gallops, they reasonably retreated into the land of Secret Sauce, revealing only that inside the box are arrays of FPGAs accessing memory space and other hardware resources in such a way that they can share resources without creating resource contention.
Do you need this product?
If you are aggregating large amounts of traffic at the WAN edge in a complex multi-tenant environment and need a switch that you can programmatically bend to your demanding will, then yes, you should consider the Corsa platform.
The view from the hot aisle.
As a technophile, this product was intriguing. Corsa has built a hard-to-create product specifically to meet customer needs in future-proof ways. In addition, they welcome third-party products into their partner ecosystem as well as integrating with open source favorites.
I’m not a Corsa user, but my engineering brain suggests that for the customer who needs this sort of product, Corsa is doing everything right. If they aren’t on your eval list, perhaps they should be.