When it comes to building telecom infrastructure, the white box trend isn’t going away anytime soon, according to an AT&T blog.
This approach to universal customer premises equipment (uCPE) sees service providers increasingly disaggregating network hardware and software. Using hardware and software from different vendors provides a “more open, flexible, and cost-effective alternative to traditional proprietary, integrated networking equipment,” the blog says.
It’s a new way of designing networks made possible by the availability of high-quality merchant silicon, reliable original design manufacturers’ (ODMs) hardware, and network operating systems and protocols.
The blog also breaks down the new ecosystem that supports white box designs.
White Box Layer Disaggregation
Hardware 1 Layer: Merchant Silicon. The bottom layer is merchant silicon. At the Open Networking Summit in April, AT&T executives discussed the company’s open source, white box trials, which used Broadcom and Barefoot Networks’ merchant silicon.
Software 1 Layer: Silicon Interfaces. This layer abstracts the silicon chip’s features. Open-source software startup SnapRoute is one company AT&T singles out for its technology. Other open-source options include Data Plane Development Kit (DPDK), Switch Abstraction Interface (SAI), and P4.
Hardware 2 Layer: Network Function Reference Design. Open Compute Project (OCP) provides reference designs from its members. AT&T says it used Delta Electronics and Edgecore Networks’ hardware in its initial white box work.
Software 2 Layer: Network Operating System and Associated Protocols. This layer at the top of the stack is “arguably the most important,” AT&T says. It implements control and management plane functions and serves as the glue that holds the rest of the networking hardware and software together. Only the capabilities exposed on this layer are available to end users.
AT&T again points to SnapRoute as one company developing control and management plane software, along with IP Infusion and Metaswitch. IP Infusion makes a network operating system for white box that includes multiple vendor product support as well as popular switching and routing protocols.
Early Adopters of White Box
“How quickly will the service providers adopt solutions based on this new ecosystem and are they comfortable doing so?” the blog asks.
It looks like the answer to the second question is “yes.” In a January report, IHS Markit found 85 percent of operators plan to deploy physical uCPE at a location to run virtual network functions (VNFs).
AT&T and Verizon are among the services providers already going down this road. Customers want white boxes, Shawn Hakl, Verizon’s vice president of new products and innovation, told SDxCentral at the 2017 NFV World Congress. Service providers who provide these solutions “are really going to clean up,” he added.
ADVA Optical Networking, which is providing the network functions virtualization (NFV) technology that will run on Verizon’s white box uCPE, said it’s in talks with “three or four other large, tier-one companies” working on their own white box solutions.