As mentioned in the previous category, HCI or hyper converged solutions may actually not be as converged as they sound. The category often lacks networking functionality. This is where white box products and other software-defined networking technologies can come into play to tie together HCI nodes.
White-box networking refers to the ability to use “generic,” off-the-shelf switches and routers within the forwarding plane of a software-defined network (SDN). White boxes can use merchant silicon coupled with COTS platform to bridge and connect converged systems. Consider white box networking and switches as a “blank” standard that provides users with the foundational hardware element(s) of a network. A common operating system for white box switches is Linux-based, due to its high availability of free and open tools.
White box products have become popular in webscale data centers, where commodity switches in huge operations such as Google or Facebook are tied together with a variety of proprietary and/or open source networking software to create custom data center applications. While networking white boxes may not be full-blown HCI solutions today, they are an emerging category of networking device that can also provide compute capabilities. They are designed to replace proprietary gear for specific data center applications such as top of rack switching, analytics, message queuing, and routing and even some application caching and acceleration functions.
Some industry experts have questioned the market potential of white box switching, noting they are likely attractive to organizations who are looking to extract value out of their infrastructure and drive revenues, versus those who are running the network as a tool and IT expense. But an interesting trend in white boxes is that these basic platforms can be retro-fitted with software to solve different needs.
Not all white-box vendors have offerings for the converged data center. This requires that hardware platform be adapted with software aimed at the converged infrastructure market. For example, Supermicro markets a converged offering packaged with VMware’s EVO:RAIL. However, there are also white-box vendors, including Big Switch, Pica8, and Pluribus Networks, which offer flexible platforms that can be used to build converged infrastructure solutions.
- Arkin: Arkin Visibility Platform and Cloud Service
- *Big Switch Networks, Inc: Big Cloud Fabric (v3.5)
- Cumulus Networks: Cumulus Networks DVC Converged Infrastructure
- Pica8, Inc.: PicOS
- *Pluribus Networks: Pluribus Freedom Series F64-FL1T