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Essential Facts About Bare Metal Switch

Updated on Jun 1, 2022
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data center switch

Nowadays open networking is all the rage. It refers to a network that uses separate software and hardware. The popularity of open networking prompts more network engineers to opt for bare metal switches in their architecture because of flexibility and cost-effectiveness they offer. This article elaborates on some essential facts you must know about bare metal switches.

What is Bare Metal Switch?

Bare metal switches are a type of network switch without a network operating system (NOS) pre-loaded. Its switch hardware comes from original design manufacturers (ODMs) that can design and manufacture a product as specified to be eventually rebranded by another company for sale. And the bare metal switch software comes from a third-party NOS such as Pica8 and Cumulus Linux OS, or others that develop their own NOS.

Why Use Bare Metal Switch?

Due to an extra level of choice they offer, bare metal switches are growing popular in the switch market. Let's explore the pros and cons of bare metal switches in more detail.

Pros & Cons

Flexible network OS choice

One obvious advantage of bare metal switches over traditional switches is that they can widen the choice available to network switch buyers. In other words, customers have the freedom to choose a NOS that best fits their needs, instead of going with a particular NOS already installed.

More compatible with switch accessories

Unlike traditional switches that only support corresponding brand-name accessories, bare metal switches are more compatible switch accessories such as power modules, power cords, and fan modules. It means that multiple accessories are available to switch buyers.

More cost savings

Compared to buying switches from brand-name vendors, consumers can purchase bare metal switches from ODMs at a lower price. In addition, by separating the hardware and software, bare metal switches make networks more affordable and manageable. Customers typically see significant savings in terms of overall capital and operating cost.

Do-It-Yourself NOS Deployment

Bare metal switches only have warranties that are hardware based and are very limited. Moreover, because of the segregation of hardware and software, customers will have to load the network OS by themselves or an engineer. This requires professional deployment skills and might be a bit troublesome for people who are looking to buy ready-to-use switches.

Bare Metal vs. White-Box vs. Brite-Box Switches

Some people still mix bare metal switches up with white-box or brite-box switches. To keep things clear and simple, their major differences are captured in the table below.

  Bare Metal Switch White-Box Switch Brite-Box Switch  
Definition Switches from ODMs without a pre-loaded NOS Commodity-based bare metal switches with a preloaded NOS, or pure bare metal switches but without a well-known brand name Bare metal switches with an OEM brand on them such as Dell  
Network operating system None. Users can load 3rd party NOC. Vendors' own or a 3rd party NOC already loaded. None. Users can load 3rd party NOC.  
Type of hardware components Off-the-shelf components including ASIC Off-the-shelf components including ASIC Off-the-shelf components including ASIC  
Cost Low Low Higher  

One thing to notice is that white-box switches may be pre-loaded with open-source software, but often times they are sold as bare metal switches. It allows customers to purchase hardware from hardware vendors, and then select their preferred network operating system.

Bare metal switches and white-box switches cost significantly less than equivalent-speed brite-box switches because the former two enable customized switch infrastructure to the specific needs of network owners and engineers.

Bare Metal Switch in Data Centers

Bare metal switches nowadays serve as a cost-effective way to address the ever-increasing traffic in data center and cloud networks. This is the result of significant use of cloud services and social networking anytime and anywhere.

When it comes to data center design, bare metal switches can be used without the markups that the major switch vendors apply. Data center owners and operators will also have more leeway to design a network topology that brings the best performance. More and more network engineers are opting for bare metal switches because of the benefit of CapEx and OpEx savings in the long term.

As data centers migrate to higher bandwidth, faster speed, and lower latency, bare metal switches will play its part to empower fast, easy, and affordable networks.

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