White-Box Switching and Disaggregation
There’s been increasing interest among Gartner clients around the topic of White-Box and disaggregated switching. Today, nearly all mainstream organizations use traditional (integrated) switches from vendors like Cisco, HP, Arista and Juniper. However, the hyperscale folks (Goog-azon-Face) operate in a different manner within portions of their network. They utilize white-box switching which provides several benefits versus traditional approaches; including massive capital cost reduction (5X-7X less p/port cost), reduced vendor lock-in, and increased software flexibility/programmability.
However, this is not panacea and there are massive barriers for mainstream and even service provider organizations to utilize white-box switching (i.e., managing the acquisition process, integrating hardware/software, support etc. etc.). As a result, white-box adoption has been limited to the networking elite (hyperscale cloud providers).
New Approaches Emerge…
The financial and functional gap between White-Box and traditional switching has opened the door for new approaches and new market entrants. These new approaches aim to “split the difference” between white-box and traditional switching, making it more palatable to bring hyperscale switching concepts to the mainstream. There are various deployment models, including
- Network switching vendors allowing their software to run on white-box hardware.
- Network switching vendors allowing other vendors’ software to run on their hardware (i.e., Dell/Cumulus and Dell/Big Switch).
- Infrastructure software vendors like VMware/Microsoft certifying hardware switches and providing the networking software/OS.
- Systems Integrators who combine the switching hardware and software, deliver it to end-user organizations, and thus become the vendor of record.
There are other potential models as well, ultimately making for some good ole-fashioned disruption and innovation in the networking market.
Say Hello to Brite-Box Switching
We feel this is an important and disruptive trend in the networking space that can bring a ton of value to organizations. Our forecasts indicate that by 2018, non-traditional switching will account for more than 10% of global data center port shipments, up from under 4% in 2013. Further, we anticipate that additional mainstream networking vendors will be entering this space, in the near future (Jim Duffy of Network World recently pontificated on Cisco and Arista doing just that here). Thus, we are getting ready to publish research in which we introduce the term “Brite-box” (aka “Brite-label”) switching, which is shorthand for branded white-box switching. Look for this research to publish early December. In the interim, here are some related thoughts around switching disaggregation.
******************** Update 12/06/2014 ********** **********
1 – Lots of good feedback initial feedback regarding the term “brite”. So I wanted to point out that the idea for the term came from Karen Benson (she deserves to be credited!)
2- The official research note published, here’s the info:
The Future of Data Center Network Switches Looks ‘Brite’
Summary: Network decision makers can reduce cost, improve management and enable long-term innovation using “brite box” switches versus traditional switching approaches. However, there are several caveats to this approach, and we identify when and where it makes the most sense.