MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Mike Yang wants you to know that white box switches aren’t as dumb as people might think.
The Quanta Cloud Technology (QCT) president isn’t trying to say that his company is getting into the software business. It’s just that QCT itself is building up software knowledge in order to better work with white box customers, as he noted during a panel at this week’s OpenStack Days: Silicon Valley.
“Open hardware is not enough,” he said during a brief panel session about hardware for OpenStack. “We invested to level up our position and work with software partners, especially in the software-defined data center.” That includes work with OpenStack providers Canonical, Mirantis, and Red Hat.
QCT, a subsidiary of Taiwanese manufacturer Quanta, is among the makers of white box hardware — servers and, increasingly, switches that leave the choice of software up to the customer. Networking vendors, in particular, have traditionally tied their software to their hardware. The idea behind white boxes is to disconnect the two.
For OpenStack specifically, QCT hopes to let customers run the platform entirely on open hardware,Yang said. This could even take the form of a fully integrated product, he noted. QCT and Supermicro have both started offering hardware loaded with Mirantis OpenStack, part of the Mirantis Unlocked Appliances program first announced in 2015.
The same panel included some perspective from the side of the network builders. Randy Bias — founder of Cloudscaling, which has been acquired by EMC — noted that the combination of open hardware and open source software is far from free.
“It takes time and effort and tools and skills,” he said. “I think we’ll get to a point where it is actually easy to deploy commodity hardware, but we’re not there yet.”
That’s even true for some webscale vendors, said Sean Roberts, director of technical program management at @WalmartLabs. In a previous job, he built networks at Yahoo, where there was no such thing as a generic workload. Lots of different, specific jobs had to run on the network, and invariably, some application would find a way to break it, whether it was white box hardware or specialized, vendor-sold gear.
“Even if I buy gear from a very well-known vendor … I’m using it for something they didn’t expect,” Roberts said. The key was to have a testing team try to find the breaking point for any new hardware, he said.