Pica8 launched a new software platform that uses a leaf-spine architecture and can automatically connect multivendor white box Ethernet switches and run them as if they were a single logical switch with a single IP address. This allows for a simplified deployment and management process compared with legacy switch stacks and chassis switches.
The PicaPilot platform compresses the software footprint of white box switches so that they appear as a single device for configuration and management. It uses multi-chassis link aggregation to support bandwidth utilization and acts as the platform’s quality of service mechanism. The platform can also redirect traffic if a spine switch or link fails.
“It essentially lets you deploy dozens and dozens of switches at one time as one IP address,” said Jeff Paine, vice president of marketing at Pica8. “It looks like one switch from a deployment and management point of view.”
PicaPilot also accesses Pica8’s CrossFlow control-plane platform. That platform supports automated management and uses an OpenFlow-based virtual switch for security policy enforcement of active Layer 2 and Layer 3 switch ports.
The initial product can support up to 40 leaf switches with up to 2,000 ports, though Paine said the company was being conservative with the initial roll out.
The software is targeted at large-scale enterprises looking to make the jump from legacy or proprietary systems like those from Cisco. Paine noted that the openness, scalability, and ease of deployment were advantages of the Pica8 platform compared to rival offerings. He added that nine times out of 10, Pica8’s contract wins see it displacing Cisco platform.
Analysts noted that Pica8 will have its work cut out for it, especially in snatching market share from a vendor like Cisco.
“PicaPilot is looking to provide a solution that presents a Leaf and Spine network architecture as a single IP management and they claim to be able to reduce the number of managed elements by 10 to 50 times per site,” explained Bob Laliberte, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. “If Pica8’s claims are true, the ability to reduce infrastructure and simplify operations would certainly get the network team’s attention as they look to replace legacy switch stacks and chassis switches.”
The PicaPilot software runs between $160 and $900 per switch, with the price difference tied to capabilities. The software does require Pica8’s PicOS to also be installed. Beta versions of the new software are currently availability, with production versions launching next month.
Paine said the Pica8 platform is similar to one recently launched by Arista Networks, though he explained that the basic Arista package is aimed more at smaller deployments. Arista earlier this month launched new Ethernet platforms targeted at helping enterprises extend their data center networking practices to their campus networks.
“Their approach and our approach will be different,” Paine said. “They will be repurposing a data center switch as an enterprise switch and go after Cisco. Our approach is more on the access layer.”
Laliberte noted that both efforts are beneficial for the ecosystem.
“I think both are trying to simplify the campus environment, which is good for everyone,” Laliberte said. “They are just taking different approaches, as one is looking to consolidate the hardware (spline) while Pica8 is enabling a traditional Leaf and Spine to be managed as a single IP management.”
Paine downplayed any sort of competitive spirit with Arista, noting that Pica8 had not really seen any competition from Arista in the market. He even noted that it was possible Pica8 and Arista could partner in the future.
“Aruba has its own management system that is expensive, proprietary, and not open,” Paine said. “Arista is sort of open in terms of some of their switches, but I don’t know how that works in the long term.”
White Box Support
Some large telecom operators have also begun to more aggressively pursue the white box space.
AT&T earlier this year said it plans to deploy up to 60,000 white boxes over the next several years powered by its Disaggregated Network Operating System (dNOS) in support of 5G. That dNOS platform has since been open sourced under the Linux Foundation as the DANOS Project.
Verizon last month said it has started to deploy new routers from Cisco and Juniper with disaggregated control plane software running on external compute resources to boost the performance and control of those routers. The carrier doesn’t consider the new boxes as true white boxes because they aren’t tied to a vendors’ specific software. But, they consider them a move toward a white box environment because it decouples the software from running directly on the hardware.
“Instead of having dedicated Cisco and Juniper software running dedicated Cisco and Juniper hardware, we are going to centralize software control,” said Michael Altland, director of network infrastructure planning at Verizon. “This will give us the flexibility to scale out service much quicker and with greater control.”
Pica8’s Paine noted that those efforts show the growing push behind the white box market. But, he stated some of those efforts are limited in their scope.
“DNOS is really only for AT&T, and is not really going to go anywhere else,” Paine said.