On February 25, the Rayno Report held another one of our riveting social chats streaming live on CrowdChat and Twitter. This one was on the topic of #whitebox. With 582 views so far and a total social reach of 564,000 people, it’s evident it’s a popular topic!
What is a white box, you ask? These are network switches built on commodity hardware using merchant silicon, rather than the proprietary integrated systems in traditional networks. The advantage of building on commodity hardware is more flexibility in choosing your own OS and software applications — and better economies of scale.
The sponsor of the chat, Pica8 (@Pica8) pointed out that the emerging Software Defined Networking (SDN) community is building white box switches using Original Design Manufacturers (ODMs), or outsourced manufacturing outfits. This is similar to way that iPhones and servers are now built, where the hardware manufacturing is separate from software installation.
“Think of ODMs as companies that build things like iPods and servers, and they also build switches,” Tweeted @Pica8. “Companies like Accton and Quanta are becoming the most well known.” Pica8 provides a white box operating system based on Linux known as PicOS.
The white box movement is part of a larger open networking movement using a variety of standards to build more flexible, open, and vendor-neutral gear. As Vishal Sharma, Principal, Metanoia, piped in from LinkedIN: “… perhaps initiatives like OpenStack, and a # of open-source initiatives, which make it easier to manage disparate hardware.”
Another big trend to watch in the development of white boxes is Facebook’s Open Compute Project (OCP), which defines standard components for data-center hardware. OCP was mentioned several times on the chat and Pica8 supports OCP.
“I think OCP is fundamentally important, enterprise vendors are largely selling a different set of solutions to enterprises than what they sell to cloud, we need more transparency, checks/balances,” tweeted in @afewell, a product specialist with Dell.
The top use cases for white boxes include Top of Rack (TOR) switches and campus switches, as well as other data applications such as big data clusters, according to @Pica8.
Prajakta Joshi (@Prajaktaplus), Director of Product, ON.Lab (ONOS), said that operators are “particularly interested in WBs for a number of reasons – extracting complexity out of dataplane, scale at reasonable cost…
“Definitely see growth driven by SDN and cloud deployments,” tweeted Joshi. “As SDN takes a stronger foothold in Service Provider networks and Enterprise, I expect whiteboxes to play an important role.”
The chat reflects excitement of the growth in the flexible white box model. You can see the transcript of the chat here. This was the first of a series of #whitebox chats, tune in for another in the next month or so!