Will white-box networking work in your datacenter?

Will white-box networking work in your datacenter?

Summary: "Commodity" is often considered a curse word by hardware vendors. Can SDN make it the standard for networking hardware?


Traditionally, data centers have been tied into well-established networking platforms.

With tried and tested hardware combined with well supported proprietary networking operating systems, investing your datacenter network’s future in products from industry leaders such as Cisco, Juniper, HP, and other top-tier vendors has been a pretty safe bet. Other vendors have made inroads, but primarily in special case scenarios, where they offered some specific feature or feature set that meshed with the business and technical needs of the datacenter.

But for the most part, the datacenter networking infrastructure is dominated by a few top-tier vendors.

With the rise of the software defined network (SDN) datacenter operators are being presented with a new option in the form of white box equipment running standardized software that is not tied to a specific set of hardware, but rather focused on the OpenFlow/Open vSwitch technology.

Hardware vendor Pica8 is one of the leaders in this move with their Linux-based network OS running on their new line of white-box network switching hardware.

Hoping to capitalize on the move to virtualized networks and cloud-serving datacenters, Pic8 offers four different switch models targeted at different size and configuration networks. All running their PicOS operating system, the support for industry standard OpenFlow technology and providing the Open vSwitch as a process within their OS, customers are able to use the OpenFlow interface for external programmability.

Supporting 1, 10, and 40G switching their current designs offer a maximum fabric capacity of 176 Gbps for 1 GbE and 1.28 Tbps for 10 GbE.

For Pica8's take on what SDN and white-box networking means to the datacenter, take a look at their video explanation: 

With prices starting under $5000 for their latest products, Pica8 believes that the value and flexibility of the white-box switch in the future of SDN in the datacenter makes it the right growth platform for datacenters servicing the cloud. 

Topics: Data Centers, Networking, Software

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1 comment
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  • Is CapEx the problem being solved?

    I think the white box movement is fantastic, but I think people are getting some basic elements a little bit wrong. The problem in networks today is not that people want to build exactly the same network they have now but do it for less CapEx. If the problem was just CapEx, you would see huge pricing pressure on the existing incumbents. You don't need new technology to move pricing down.

    Technologies like SDN come along because it's not just that gear is too expensive to purchase; it's also too expense to manage. SDN is about workflow automation. People want a fundamentally different network. Yes, the pricing needs to be competitive, but if by the time we are all done, all we have done is built a cheaper network, the next 10 years are going to be horribly disappointing.

    I would love to see Cumulus and Pica8 talk more about their Linux roots and DevOps hooks. They are both doing great things here. They just get buried under the CapEx story for some reason.

    -Mike Bushong (@mbushong)
    Mike Bushong