Broadcom Opens Up Chips With SDK


By: Michael Vizard

Application developers and builders of various types of networking software alike have been steadily becoming more interested in being able to programmatically control network devices. To provide that level of access, leading network chip provider Broadcom (AVGO) today announced SDKLT, an open-source software development kit (SDK) that can be employed to build application software with deeper connections to network hardware.

SDKLT is specifically designed to enable developers to programmatically control the ASICs that Broadcom embeds in its BCM56960 Tomahawk switch series of processors that are widely employed in Ethernet switches. These commercially available processors have helped the networking movement by providing low-cost chips that can be used to build Commodity Off the Shelf (COTS) hardware.

One drawback of COTS, versus the alternative approach of using a proprietary applications specific integrated circuit (ASIC), is the lack of deep integration between software applications and the hardware. Broadcom's new SDLKLT is designed to enable applications to get direct access deep into networking hardware, using function calls such as MAC Address Tables or L3 route tables available as explicitly defined logical tables. The SDKLT, along with the Logical Table application programming interfaces (APIs), is available on Github under an Apache 2.0 license.

Broadcom is specifically targeting hardware vendors, network OS providers, and builders of SDN controllers that don’t want to have to pay commercial software licensing fees when building software, says Eli Karpilovski, director of product marketing for switch software, SDN and cloud solutions for Broadcom.

In fact, Karpilovski says organizations employing SDKLT are under no obligation to share how they have extended SDKLT to build an application.

Previously, Broadcom has made available higher-level APIs. SDKLT takes that open networking initiative to the next level by providing a full SDK, says Karpilovski.

“Our customers want more control over resources on the switch,” says Karpilovski.

The primary benefits afforded by SDKLT include better visibility and control over device resources. This includes flexible transaction management across batched or atomic operations via single API call and higher availability enabled by support for functions such as Soft Error Recovery, Warmboot, and In-Service Upgrades.

Longer term, Karpilovski says Broadcom will apply this same approach to other classes of processors as well.

With the new SDKLT, Broadcom is trying to provide network vendors the capability to build networking software capable of rivaling proprietary approach, such as those offered by Cisco. Many open networking players, such as Dell and HPE, are focusing on using Broadcom's open platform or commercial chips, rather than proprietary ASICs, which is what Cisco is focusing on. For proponents of open networking, access to an SDK that exposes more lower-level networking functions should enable them to build more advanced open networking software at a faster rate.