Switchless network architecture lightens HPC, AI and ML workloads

Oct. 27, 2021
Rockport Networks says its new architecture "breaks decades of switch-intensive networking tradeoffs, conquering congestion, enabling elastic scale, and simplifying operations required for performance-hungry data centers."

Rockport Networks on Oct. 26 announced the commercial availability of its new switchless network architecture, optimized to deliver the heightened data performance and scalability necessary for handling intensive computing workloads including HPC, AI and ML applications. As stated by a company announcement:

Addressing the longstanding data center chokepoints that are throttling innovation, the Rockport Switchless Network offers a completely new design, using breakthrough software and data-routing techniques to overcome congestion, delivering predictable performance improvements of more than 3X that of centralized switch-intensive networks.

The Rockport Switchless Network distributes the network switching function to endpoint devices, where these devices (nodes) become the network. By eliminating layers of switches, the Rockport Switchless Network also significantly frees up rack space to be better used by compute and storage, as well as creating savings in associated power, cooling, and administrative overhead. No longer are compute and storage resources starving for data, and researchers [will now] have more predictability regarding workload completion time.

Doug Carwardine, CEO and co-founder, Rockport Networks, explains, “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. 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. Rethinking network switches creates an opportunity to leverage direct interconnect topologies that provide a connectivity mesh in which every network endpoint can efficiently forward traffic to every other endpoint.”

Technical details

The Rockport Switchless Network is billed as a distributed, highly reliable, high-performance interconnect providing pre-wired supercomputer topologies through a standard plug-and-play Ethernet interface.

The Rockport Network Operating System (rNOS) is software at the core of the Rockport Switchless Network and runs on the system's network card, fully offloaded from the compute cores and server operating system. According to the company, the rNOS enables the network to self-discover, self-configure and self-heal.

As further stated by Rockport, "Like a navigation app for data, this patented approach selects and continually optimizes the best path through the network to minimize congestion and latency, while breaking down packets into smaller pieces (FLITs) to ensure high-priority messages are not blocked by large messages or bulk data transfers."

Designed to integrate easily into existing and emerging data centers, according to its maker, "the Rockport Switchless Network installs in a fraction of the time required to cable traditional switch-based networks. As an embeddable architecture, it will work in any form factor."

As described by the company, the software is deployed and managed using three main components:

  • The Rockport NC1225: The NC1225...Network Card, [replaces] standard network interface cards (NIC) within servers and storage enclosures, along with the layers of switches that form traditional network fabrics. It adaptively aggregates the bandwidth of multiple parallel network paths, drawing from 300 Gbps of available network capacity.
  • The Rockport SHFL: The SHFL eliminates months of wiring with a single optical device; this new passive cabling invention provides a simple way for end users to implement sophisticated supercomputing network architectures in a fraction of the time of switched networks. The Rockport SHFL is available in multiple versions to help simply scale out networks.
  • The Rockport Autonomous Network Manager (ANM): The ANM offers a holistic view and deep insight of the active network. It continuously monitors all aspects of the network and stores historical data for 60 days with the most recent seven days collected at high fidelity within the timeline.

Value proposition

Rockport says its new switchless technology delivers significant TCO, sustainability and security benefits including the following points:

  • Eliminates the need for redundant devices for reliability.
  • De-materializes and de-carbonizes the data center, reducing carbon footprint.
  • Requires between 34% and 69% less energy consumption when compared to switch-based technologies.
  • Eliminates up to 72% of cabling requirements.
  • Reduces rack space and weight in the network by as much as 77%.
  • Protects against security breaches as a result of continual re-optimization of data paths.

“When the root of the problem is the architecture, building a better switch just didn’t make sense,” concluded Matt Williams, CTO, 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.”

Notably, after an extensive beta program for cloud service providers and elite government and academic research labs, the Rockport Switchless Network is being deployed by customers including the University of Texas’ Advanced Computing Center (TACC). Rockport says it is also working with industry organizations including Ohio State University (OSU) to contribute to performance-intensive networking standards.

The Rockport Switchless Network is available immediately. For additional information, visit: https://rockportnetworks.com/.

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