An OIF Overview

Nov. 20, 2019
OIF creates benchmarks, performs worldwide interoperability testing, builds market awareness, and promotes education for technologies, services and, solutions.

Launched in 1998, OIF promotes the development and deployment of interoperable networking solutions and services through the creation of Implementation Agreements (IAs) for optical networking products, network processing elements, and component technologies. IAs are based on requirements developed cooperatively by end users, service providers, equipment vendors, and technology providers, and aligned with worldwide standards, augmented if necessary. This is accomplished through collaborative industry member participation to develop IAs for:

  • external network element interfaces
  • software interfaces internal to network elements
  • hardware component interfaces internal to network elements.

OIF creates benchmarks, performs worldwide interoperability testing, builds market awareness, and promotes education for technologies, services and, solutions. OIF also provides feedback to worldwide standards organizations to help achieve a set of implementable, interoperable solutions.

Incubation and Implementation Agreements

For those who have had experience with standards setting or standards development organizations, it’s important to understand that OIF operates a bit differently. The IAs created by OIF provide a foundation or framework for interoperable implementations. By the nature of their name, IAs are agreements between OIF members and what they believe needs to be documented to facilitate interoperability. This permits OIF to have a less structured process that enables quick convergence on interoperable solutions.

For example, it’s possible to have a general discussion during a meeting on what might make a good future project -- and to have that discussion lead to the formation of a new project during that same meeting. OIF’s pace is less controlled by process and more influenced by need or demand. This characteristic has significant benefits for members who want to bring forward ideas they feel may incubate into a project. The pace is controlled by the members, who decide whether to accelerate the project or to take more time gaining consensus.

Implementation Agreements

The outcome of projects inside OIF is the creation of an IA. An IA can be technically detailed but often provides the flexibility for implementers or other standards organizations to modify for their purposes. For example, multiple 56-Gbps common electrical I/O (CEI) IAs were generated by OIF, and many other standards organizations used the IAs as the basis of their electrical interface specifications.

OIF Projects

OIF has a number of projects underway in the areas of electrical interfaces, protocols, and optical specifications. In OIF these projects can be started many different ways; the network operators (such as Microsoft; see “Driving Next Generation Network Solutions at OIF – A Network Operator’s Perspective”), equipment providers, or component suppliers can bring their inputs on perceived industry needs. There are working groups to allow each of these communities to discuss application-specific needs as well as working groups where technology-specific needs are discussed.

In the Electrical working group, one effort that is well-known to many in the communications industry is the Common Electrical I/O (CEI) IA work. There have been many projects to support the development of IAs for different speeds and reaches of CEI. Microsoft has been participating in the CEI-28G, CEI-56G, and CEI-112G work because we develop our own network adapter cards. These IAs have a direct impact on the highest volume links in our data centers – the server to the top-of-rack (ToR) switch.

Microsoft has also been participating in the FlexE (Flex Ethernet) project in the Protocol working group, as FlexE is a technology that enables bonding, sub-rating, and/or channelizing links according to varying bandwidth demands. Microsoft’s primary interest in FlexE is with the bonding and sub-rating; bonding permits combining lower bandwidth links to greater a single high bandwidth link, and sub-rating enables the ability to have long-haul links best match the bandwidth capability of the link.

The Optical working group is primarily focused on defining solutions that enable coherent optical technology standardization both for common mechanical building blocks such as the IC-TROSA project and for interoperable coherent optical link definitions such as the 400ZR project. The IC-TROSA project is defining a common building block that will enable common subassemblies for use in optical modules that will support the 400ZR project. The 400ZR project is developing an interoperable coherent optical link definition that will be applicable to Microsoft’s metro data center interconnect links.

Ecosystem Interaction

For any specification development organization (SDO) to truly be effective, there needs to be interaction with other SDOs and industry consortia. OIF’s liaison relationship with the following subset of organizations is beneficial because it ensures that there is coordination across industries that affect how Microsoft builds and designs its data centers:

OIF members can see the communication between the OIF and the other organizations where OIF has a relationship. Therefore, members not directly involved in those other organizations can view what is occurring in those organizations to better understand the ecosystem and determine whether to engage with those other organizations.

Brad Booth is manager, network hardware engineering, Microsoft Azure Hardware Systems Group, at Microsoft. He is also president of the Consortium for On-Board Optics.