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Facebook is announcing today that it’s constructed another key hardware component to run the networks in its data centers exactly the way it wants to.

Dubbed 6-pack, Facebook’s new homebrewed modular switch brings together connections to lots of Facebook-built Wedge switches, which in turn connect to servers sitting in racks inside Facebook’s server farms.

These cavernous facilities power Facebook’s popular apps and internal services, making them essential to Facebook’s operations. It has optimized servers and storage hardware in its data centers — and even the buildings themselves. The modular switch, which fits in with the elaborate networking architecture Facebook laid out a few months ago, is the latest effort to perfect its infrastructure.

The creation represents a challenge to modular switch sellers, including Cisco, Juniper, and Arista.

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Each of these bad boys carries 128 Ethernet ports, through which data can move at 40 gigabits per second.

And, like Facebook’s servers, 6-pack is customizable.

“Each element [in 6-pack] runs its own operating system on the local server and is completely independent, from the switching aspects to the low-level board control and cooling system,” Facebook engineer Yuval Bachar wrote in a blog post about the new gear. “This means we can modify any part of the system with no system-level impact, software or hardware.”

A diagram of 6-pack's elements.

Above: A diagram of 6-pack’s elements.

Image Credit: Facebook

Going forward, other companies might well move to build or buy similar modular switches for their data centers — which is possible given that Facebook intends to submit the 6-pack design to the Open Compute Project (OCP), like other data center hardware it has come up with.

“We will continue working with the OCP community to develop open network technologies that are more flexible, more scalable, and more efficient,” wrote Bachar, who was the lead engineer on 6-pack. The switch is now in production testing at Facebook.

Check out the full blog post for more details on 6-pack.

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