This post concludes our brief series on white-box switching. Links to the other stories in the series can be found below.
White boxes aren’t easy. That’s one thing I’ve come to appreciate in writing these stories. There’s a reason why so many customers, particularly enterprises, prefer to have a vendor guide them into new technologies. The bare-metal revolution might not change that — but it would certainly be fun to see them take a shot at it.
Most of the white-box talk does focus on cloud providers and large data centers. The likes of Amazon, Facebook, and Google are the technology’s early adopters, after all. In an analysis we previously mentioned, Rod Hall of JPMorgan Chase figured it was plausible for 85 percent of data-center switching to convert to white boxes. He also ran a variation of his numbers where 30 percent of campus switching makes the conversion but didn’t seem to consider this as likely. The enterprise is not as rich a target.
One reason is because the “network” carries different weight for different customers. To the data center or cloud provider, the network is the business. Running the data center is what generates revenue. So, the people in charge of the network are developers and architects. They’re willing to tinker with components in order to wring efficiencies out of their networks.
Enterprises, on the other hand, use the network as a tool. Having expertise in running a network is probably not going to generate any new revenues if you’re a law firm or a sporting-goods retailer. The IT person running the network is a consumer, not a developer.
As a result, I don’t think many people would be surprised to see the enterprise remain the purview of the equipment vendors rather than the DIY white-box crowd. I know at least one vendor that’s decided to segment its market forecasts that way, believing the equipment providers won’t have to cede ground to white boxes in the enterprise. And that would mean that the most dramatic vision for white boxes — that they’ll topple Cisco — might not come true.
That doesn’t mean Cisco comes out of this unscathed. I wonder if the value of what Cisco and other vendors provide — specifically, the expertise to coach a customer through new waves of networking technologies — is going to decrease. The networking folks at the Open Compute Project have certainly turned their backs on it. So, even if white boxes aren’t exactly cheap, as we’ve heard Seamus Crehan of Crehan Research say, their competitive presence could still change the way this sector does business. Many large customers would say it’s about time.
Here’s the full slate of stories from White Box Week: