Make no mistake: Some high-end users are tired of vendor lock-in, and they might be ready to try a white box model to get what they want.
They see vendors standing in the way of a truly open, multivendor environment, one that would provide more than lip service toward interoperability. That’s the attitude that the industry has bred, at least among some high-end users, those knowledgeable enough to tinker.
I got to hear from a few of them this week at Internet2‘s inaugural Technology Exchange in Indianapolis, where a hand-picked group — network architects from universities and research organizations — convened for an informal lunch discussion.
What I heard was frustration over lack of true interoperability. There’s a general feeling that the vendors — and it’s no secret they’re mainly talking about Cisco, although none are above suspicion — are hijacking the development of software-defined networking (SDN), steering toward a Balkanized world of products claiming to be “open” just because they can connect to the others. Users want more.
Could OpenFlow be of any help as a vendor-neutralizing layer, I asked? Every vendor has to carry OpenFlow support, even if only grudgingly; maybe that could be a point of pure interoperability.
But some users felt that OpenFlow itself has been contaminated. They said the OpenFlow 1.3 spec has acres of wiggle room, so that most vendors can get away with a bare-bones implementation. What you get is barely more interesting than OpenFlow 1.0, one user said.
The OpenDaylight Project offers a glimmer of hope, in that it’s an open organization where consensus has to be won over with code. But vendors dominate the contributions, with many of the smaller ones seemingly trying to get any foothold possible for whatever technology they do best. I don’t think the Internet2 users are convinced OpenDaylight will produce what they want, either.
You can’t blame vendors for sticking to what works. But I think an increasing number of users have revolution on the brain. Don’t forget what else happened this week: the third gathering of the Open Networking User Group (ONUG) which, led by financial institutions, is pushing for new openness in networking.
Combined, the community’s disgruntled users are not organized enough yet to have Google’s buying power — Google having almost single-handedly turned “white box” into the second largest top-of-rack switch “vendor” behind Cisco, as analyst Alan Weckel of Dell’Oro Group has noted.
But what they want out of the vendors really does resemble a white box model. Some of these users aren’t ready for the DIY aspect of white-box infrastructure, so they’ll take something close if the vendors will offer it. But when it comes to the higher-end users … if the white box ecosystem ever really gets going, watch out.