Pica8 is trying to make it easier for the world to accept white-box switches, but some of its manufacturers are still bashful about admitting they play a part in this market.
The company’s newest switch, the P-3297, launched today and is shipping, but it’s one of the few cases where Pica8’s ODM — the company supplying the hardware, on which Pica8’s operating system will run — doesn’t want its name disclosed. The ODM’s executives are afraid that a “white box supplier” stigma will hurt their company’s standing with big equipment OEMs. (The ODM freely discloses itself to Pica8 customers, however.)
“Some people build for other switch vendors, and they don’t want to be known as a white-box vendor yet,” says Steve Garrison, Pica8’s vice president of marketing. “It just shows we have a few battles to fight.”
It’s a minor thing, and understandable. But it’s still amusing, especially considering Pica8’s other ODMs are known to the world. Those names, for those who want to play process-of-elimination, are: Alpha, Accton, Foxconn, and Quanta.
The White Box Barrier
Like Cumulus Networks, Pica8 is a software vendor at heart, supplying the operating system that customers would install on the off-the-shelf switch of their choice.
But it takes time for a customer to set up a white box in the lab and show that it’s going to have some value in an SDN framework. So, Pica8 and Cumulus end up shipping entire switches prepopulated with their software. In Pica8’s case, they represent the majority of shipments.
“We’re trying to make some motion this year, just like with the starter kit [announced in December], trying to get people over barriers,” Garrison says.
Built around the Broadcom Trident+ chip, the P-3297 is one of several switches Pica8 offers. What makes it stand out is an added amount of ternary content-addressable memory (TCAM), which is helpful for scaling OpenFlow flow tables. Switches based on the Trident+ and ordinary DRAM can typically support 4,000 OpenFlow flows, Garrison says; the P-3297 shoots for 8,000.
The real point is that these switches can be configured the way PCs are, with varying CPUs and memory. “There’s nothing unique about the system design that locks you into using these components. In fact, the ODMs are expert at designing the motherboard to accommodate those kinds of changes,” Garrison says.
The P-3297 sports 48 Gigabit Ethernet ports and four 10-Gb/s uplinks. It lists for $4,690.
Gigabit Ethernet represents the majority of the data-center edge market, Garrison says, but Pica8 does have switches supporting 10-Gb/s ports as well. That includes two switches, still in the lab, that are based on Broadcom’s newer Trident II chip: the P-5101 (built by Alpha, with 48 10-Gb/s ports) and the P-5401 (built by Foxconn, with 32 40-Gb/s ports).