What Does Lego Have to Do with Ethernet Networking? The Enduring Appeal of LEGO to Open Composable Networks

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We live in an age when new trends of toys and gadgets rise and fade in a matter of years or even months, yet somehow LEGO®, the humble toy that is almost 80 years old, still maintains its charm among kids and adults alike. One of the keys to LEGO’s enduring appeal is that it fires the imagination. With those little bricks in their hands, kids can create whatever they envision with their mind. As an avid LEGO lover once said, LEGO molds itself to your personality — you can either read the instructions and follow them diligently or go balls to the wall building crazy Escheresque dreamscapes.


Little child playing with lots of colorful plastic blocks indoor


Take my 4-year-old son Noah as an example:  Noah is a huge fan of fire trucks, and there is no shortage of fire truck toys at home. But no matter how fancy these fire truck toys are, blinking lights, siren sounds, remote control, his interest in them wears off after a day or two. LEGO fire trucks are a rare exception because he could put them together, destroy them, mix the parts together, and rebuild them into different shapes.


How does LEGO do this? There are three essential attributes:Colorful toys


• LEGO bricks are made of basic shapes/components

• LEGO bricks have well defined and simple interface so that they can be combined freely

• LEGO building requires a basic set of skills, the rest is your imagination and creativity


This is exactly the direction modern networking is heading too. At Mellanox, we call it Open Composable Networks or OCN. As the name indicates, OCN defines a next-generation architecture for networking infrastructure that is open and can be constructed flexibly from basic components. OCN is based on:

  1. Network disaggregation (into modular components)
  2. Open and unified abstraction interface between these components
  3. Automated composition and orchestration, with efficient middleware that can pool these abstracted resources, and orchestrate them on demand.

With this architecture, applications can easily and quickly compose and recompose network resources for optimal performance.

Why do we need Open Composable Networks? Ultimately, Information Technology (IT) needs to move at the speed of people’s imagination to be the enabler, not the inhibitor, of innovations. IT infrastructure has become the critical foundation that not only guarantees service quality but also powers agile innovation and provides competitive differentiation. As a result, people are looking for ways to quickly and easily customize their IT infrastructure to set them apart from their competitors.


Successful businesses embrace automation to enable customizing their IT infrastructure on demand and achieve faster time to market, flexibility and optimal application performance. Advances are being made in different aspects of IT infrastructure.  It started with compute/servers, and has started to expand into storage and networking.


How to quickly and easily customize your network? Essentially, we can learn everything from LEGO:
• Break the network down to basic components, sometimes called “network disaggregation”

• Support open and unified APIs between these components, so that dependence and lock-in is removed and innovation in each component can happen more quickly and easily

• Provide a set of basic automation tools to easily compose these building blocks on demand


By the way, the same revolution is happening in the application space as applications are moving to be cloud-native to support agile innovations. Being cloud-native means that applications become micro-services oriented, container packaged, and dynamically managed.


Network disaggregation was first envisioned and utilized by the hyper-scale web and cloud service providers, but has rapidly expanded its influence to enterprises in many industries. This has allowed enterprises to take control and easily customize their own network infrastructure. It is the first step to enable organizations to build the right network infrastructure to support ephemeral cloud-native workloads, and DevOps practices to achieve Web-Scale IT efficiency.


Once networks are disaggregated into functionally independent modules with open, clearly defined abstraction interfaces, you are free to leverage the best-of-breed building blocks to compose a network infrastructure that is tailored to best serve your applications’ unique requirements. Only with this new generation of Open Composable Networks can you maximize and leverage the combined wisdom of the larger networking ecosystem, and to unleash your own innovation.


As an avid advocate of Open Ethernet, Mellanox is announcing our Open Composable Network platform that will truly set you free for agile innovation. The Mellanox OCN delivers:


Best of breed high-performance networking and intelligent interconnect portfolio available from chips all the way up to system level. The portfolio includes Spectrum switches, ConnectX adapters, and LinkX cables. Take the Spectrum switch as an example, we not only deliver the Ethernet switch System-on-a-Chip (SoC) to our OEM, ODM, but also provide a turn-key Ethernet Top-of-Rack switch system that has the switch hardware, Network Operating System (NOS) and associated applications running on top of the NOS. The key difference between Mellanox Spectrum and other traditional switch vendors is, customers can freely pick and choose each of the components, the switch chip, switch hardware, NOS and applications.


To showcase this capability, we are doing a live demo at the OCP Summit March 9th to 10th 2016 with 4 different NOS: Microsoft’s Software for Open Networking in the Cloud (SONiC), Cumulus Linux, Mellanox MLNX-OS and Metaswitch – all running over Spectrum.


Chloe Ma 030916 Fig6
Chloe Ma 030916 Quotable MARICON border3Unified and open API support that provides the foundation for resource abstraction and orchestration so that resources can be composed and recomposed on demand to achieve business agility. Specifically, Mellanox has been a key contributor to the development open networking initiatives including OCP ONIE and SAI, and Linux switchdev, where Spectrum is the first switch supported upstream in Linux.



Simple yet powerful network management, automation, and control middleware. The Mellanox NEO management package enables network automation and software defined intelligence. Through integration with other cloud management platforms and Software Defined Networking (SDN) controllers, NEO helps to enhance network operational efficiency and make network infrastructure easy to deploy, manage, and scale.


Just like LEGO can spur your imagination and enable you to build anything you want, Open Composable Networks can help you construct networks to meet your business needs and unleash new innovations.

One response to “What Does Lego Have to Do with Ethernet Networking? The Enduring Appeal of LEGO to Open Composable Networks”

  1. […] In order to achieve predictable performance, it’s important to understand how modern, open  networking equipment is built. At this year’s Open Compute Project (OCP) Summit in San Jose, we introduced Open Composable Networks (OCN) – which represents the realization of the vision of the Open-Ethernet initiative first launched early in 2013. OCN demonstrates the power of open networking as is explained in the blog: Why are Open Composable Networks like Lego? […]