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Is Brite-Box Switching Rite for Everyone?

By Andrew Lerner | February 24, 2015 | 0 Comments

Product AnnoucementNetworkingJust PublishedIn the newsDevOpsIT Cost Optimization, Finance, Risk and Value

There’s been a lot of activity in the network space around branded white-box (“brite-box“) switching lately. We’re getting an increasing number of questions from clients about it, so we just published research on the topic to better identify where/when it does (and doesn’t) make sense.

Is Brite-Box Switching Right for Your Network?,

Summary: Network decision makers can reduce costs and improve management by using branded white-box switches (“brite box”) in their data centers. However, this approach is not a universal fit. We identify five usage scenarios (including a real-world case study) where it is best suited.

This is our 2nd piece of research on the subject, as we introduced the concept a few months back. For a quick refresher, the key tenants of a brite-box are disaggregation (hardware and software/OS can be de-coupled), dramatically reduced capital cost (i.e., white-box economics), commercial software (versus roll your own), and the option to receive service/support from a single supplier (1-throat to choke).

Busy Times in Vendorland

There have been several developments since December when Juniper/Dell were the only mainstream networking vendors behind it.  Last week, HP announced a solution that combines Accton hardware and Cumulus software.  Earlier in the month, Cyan announced they are doing brite things with their optical switches. In addition, Dell expanded their brite-box offering beyond just Cumulus’ OS and Big Switch’s Big Tap to include a full brite-box Ethernet fabric offering (based on Big Switch Big Cloud Fabric).  Perhaps the most interesting development is that Cisco now mentions ONIE support (ONIE is a lynchpin to brite-box adoption) in documentation of their Nexus 9K switches.

Quick Update 02/26 12:25PM EST:  I’ve been informed that the ONIE documentation link above is no longer active. However, ONIE is still referenced in this Nexus 9000 documentation (at least as of right now):

Brite Impact on Network Packet Brokers

This has carried over into the NPB space as well, where Gigamon has disaggregated their GigaVue software from physical appliances and now supports running their software on white-box switches from Quanta. Perhaps this was spurred by the existence of lower cost brite-box NPB offerings from the likes of Big Switch and Pluribus….

What’s Next?

The disruption isn’t finished and we anticipate that a) existing offerings will expand (more options, more integrations) and b) there will be offerings from additional mainstream vendors.

Side Note:  We’ve observed vendors unofficially supporting brite-box today, as a “one-off” for very large customers.

Now Back to Reality

However, despite the increasing amount of options, this isn’t for everyone right now.  Right now, Brite-box is most applicable for large network operators, such as cloud providers, hosters, network service providers, and XXL enterprise (i.e., organization that buy @ scale). In other words, if you buy switches in quantities of 100 or greater, this offering is targeted directly at your needs.  In addition, organizations that have implemented DevOps philosophies will find this style attractive, due to the Linux-based nature of the software vendors.

Regards and Happy switching


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