The startup Fiber Mountain aims to make data center networks more flexible and efficient using a combination of fiber optics and SDN.
It’s a goal that’s simply stated, but it’s taken me several interviews with the company and much scouring of data sheets to wrap my head around how they do it.
It goes like this: Fiber Mountain offers an optical interconnect scheme that lets you create network paths between racks in a row, or among rows, without having to pass that traffic from a ToR switch to core or spine switches first.
“If you see a lot of traffic going from one ToR to another, why send it to the spine for processing? Just give the two ToR switches a direct connection,” said Fiber Mountain CEO and founder M. H. Raza in an interview.
The upshot is faster, more efficient paths for network traffic, and load reduction for your core switches.
Of course the company doesn’t expect you to rip and replace your data center gear. Fiber Mountain knows it has to co-exist with existing infrastructure, and customers can start with two or three racks to which they add Fiber Mountain’s equipment.
Fiber Mountain builds its system on four main components: the optical interconnect device, the company’s ToR switches, a patch panel if you go for full fiber optics, and the orchestration software.
Let’s break it down piece by piece.
The Glass Core
Fiber Mountain calls its whole system a Glass Core. The heart of the Glass Core is the Optical Path Exchange, (OPX), a network device that provides the optical interconnect between its ToR switches. OPX is a 1U device with 14, 24-fiber MPO connectors.
Fiber Mountain’s ToR switches connect to the OPX. Fiber Mountain offers three versions of its switch. At the top of the line is the AP-3620, which uses MPO connectors instead of QSFP+ or SFP ports, allowing for full fiber optic connections between the ToR switch and the OPX.
Fiber Mountain says the AP-3620 can control up to 104 ports of 10GbE or 40GbE. Fiber Mountain says customers can change port throughput from 10GbE to 40GbE via software, without making physical changes to the device or buying new hardware. The AP-3620 supports Openflow 1.4.
Fiber Mountain offers a patch panel, Alpine Connect. You cable up servers using traditional connections to the patch panel, and then run fiber connections to the AP-3620.
The final piece is the Alpine Orchestration System (AOS). This is the controller software that enables programmatic control of the switches and OPX. AOS maintains topology of both physical and logical paths in the Glass Core and, using Openflow, can program new flows in response to changing requirements.
AOS also provides management and performance monitoring features, and includes a northbound API to integrate with third-party systems such as OpenStack.
Besides offloading traffic from your core switches and creating more direct paths between racks and rows, Fiber Mountain laid out other use cases for the Glass Core. One is for high-performance computing or performance-sensitive applications that would benefit from the speed and low latency of fiber optics.
The Glass Core can also make port-level or flow-level copies of traffic and deliver them to third-party devices. This can be useful for performance monitoring, diagnostics, or for sending copies to security analytics systems such as SIEM products.
Fiber Mountain is smart to come to market with discrete use cases that will fit into brownfield deployments and require only limited investment in new devices.
My question is whether these use cases can justify the risk that comes with buying into a startup’s vision (never mind its equipment). Potential customers need a clear and urgent reason to throw in with a new company. Incumbents and other startups alike are making so much noise around new technologies to transform that data center that Fiber Mountain’s approach can easily get drowned out, regardless of its merits.
About Fiber Mountain
Fiber Mountain, which is privately held, was launched in 2014. Founder and CEO Raza was previously the VP/GM for the global enterprise business of ADC Telecommunications. He also held executive positions at 3Com and Fujitsu BCS.
For more startup coverage, check out my post on Menlo Security.