Friday, January 1, 2016

Data Center Switch Market - Black magic in White Box

Deploy, Manage and operate Data center switches similar to the way you operate a server. Buy commodity hardware and run operating system you like. These two ideas gave birth to WHITE BOX switches to Switching market.

In campus networking and Data Center  networking Top of Rack (TOR) or Leaf switches are the most deployed networking infrastructure. Every network interconnect should go through LAN switches, In Data Center networking TOR is the 1st server interconnect point. Every server gets a link to a TOR switch through direct or indirect extended links. White box evolution is promises to make a big impact on TOR market with low priced commodity switches. Data Center switching has made a giant stride in recent time, Switches are specially built instead of using general-purpose switches. There has been a quantum jump in amount of traffic handled by data center switches. I have used 100Mbps port-speed switches to connect server, Gone or the days!

White box echo system consists of,

  • Merchant silicon companies - Networking ASICS - Ex: BRCM, xpliant, NxP, Intel
  • Bare Metal Switch providers -  Ex: Quanta computer Inc, Pic8, Accton, Celestica
  • Network OS Ex: Cumulus, Pic8, Big Switch Networks, Juniper, Dell etc

ASIC, HW and OS together makes a switch. Choice for each one of these through various vendors makes life easy for all customers. This Healthy competition is laying founding stones for the fruitful future of White box switches. 

I am neither a support nor an opposer to White box solutions. My data center domain expertise only puzzles me with following questions. 

  1. Server OS != Switch OS. I couldn't accept this point.
    • x86 architecture has been there for a while. hypothetically Ever since computer industry has evolved into mainstream.
    • Server OS is a Very very big market to keep different providers busy.Desktop, Application hosting environment, Cloud, Campus, cellphone and lab)
    • Networking processors have to go through multiple sprints to get the maturity equivalent to PC processors. Evolving protocols needs newer capabilities in ASIC.
  2. Support Onus - Asic, Switch Manufacturer and OS, Out of these three pillars who will take ownership for any issues.
  3. Catch-Up with standard - Networking giants like Cisco, Juniper and Brocade have edge over Merchant silicon vendors in many new protocols.
  4. Support cost is directly proportionate to  knowledge base. New Box/OS - means new training cycle for IT engineers
Certainly WHITE BOX solutions is an important catalyst for SDN and NFV evolution. Data Center and enterprise networking is going through a big consolidation phase. White Box battle will certainly make a big hole in existing networking vendors revenue. I am sure they will have plans to sail through this head wind. 

Open standards is must to increase innovation and hence tackle digital divide across the globe. Only time can reveal the effectiveness of this black magic. 

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