The Stack Archive

Facebook to mass-produce Backpack, its new second-gen modular data centre switch

Fri 11 Nov 2016

Facebook has announced the release of its second generation modular switch platform (MSP), entitled Backpack. Not only is the technology to be integrated into the social network’s Open Compute Project, but Facebook has also ordered large enough numbers of the switch to accommodate the open market.

Backpack is the successor to the 6-Pack MSP launched at the beginning of 2015, but upgrades that device’s 40gb streaming capacity to 100gb, and employs fibre optic technology more commonly used in inter-site data centre connectivity.


The Facebook announcement says that Backpack is already entering production status within Facebook’s internal infrastructure, and will constitute the foundation of a new community-developed ecostructure.

‘As we migrate our infrastructure from 40G to 100G, we’re faced with several hardware design challenges. Not only does our network need to run at a higher speed, but we also need a better cooling system to support 100G ASIC chips and optics, which consume significantly more power than previous generation components. Backpack is designed to meet both of these requirements while keeping our fabric design simple and scalable.’

Omar Baldonado, a member of Facebook’s engineering team, said of the release that Backpack, manufactured by the Taiwan-based Accton Technology Corporation, will be available for purchase later in 2017, in volume.

Backpack is a companion to the Wedge 100 top-of-rack switch which Facebook released in March this year, and similarly donated to the Open Compute Project. The new MSP has achieved a notable reduction in heat emission, with an operating temperature around 55c, while its modular design and complete accessibility – for purposes of replacement and maintenance – make it anything but ‘black box’ technology.

Baldanado told ZDnet “To move from 40G to 100G, there were a lot of challenging hardware and optical and chip-level concerns the team had to address to get that to work,” and added, “We needed to go bigger and faster.”

The Backpack switch is currently being integrated into Facebook’s current BGP monitoring framework. Backpack’s control plane load is, uncommonly, distributed across all cards in the stack, allowing for modular tweaks and redesigns without custom chassis work on the software side.

Backpack is intended, like its predecessor, to work with the Facebook Open Switching System (FBOSS), as well as the TOR switch Wedge.

The announcement characterises 6-Pack as a vital development tool for this faster and more mature switch: ‘When we ran 6-pack through these testing phases, we uncovered bugs and performance deficiencies. Because Backpack relies on the same software code base, the performance gains from fixing these issues in 6-pack carried over automatically.’

A component of this power and performance, if released to market at an affordable price and within the ‘open’ data centre framework, seems likely to cast a chill upon the proprietary offerings from the likes of Cisco.


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