Business now is becoming more network-centric than ever, which further stretches the limit of network speed and agility. SDN (Software-defined networking) has thus been brought into the public eye, as a lower-cost alternative to traditional network hardware. The journey to SDN has been made easier with white box switch—together they create a software-based approach to build more scalable and agile networks that can better align and support the system requirement. So what exactly is white box switch and how it benefit SDN implement? That what we are gonna explore in this article.
When looking into SDN technologies, you’ll hear a lot about the benefits of centralized control and networking visibility. SDN is valued for its ability to decouple the control plane from the packet-forwarding (data) plane within the network. In this case, network configuration and management can be made from a central location, rather than accessing every specific switches or services through the network. Companies thus can reap great benefits from the reduced operational costs, improved network agility and simplified system provisions. One of the prominent features of SDN is the SDN controllers—with northbound interfaces that can communicate with applications via application programming interfaces (APIs), it enables direct program of the network. SDN now is becoming practical and the deployment of which is heating up recently. Here is a simple graph showing SDN architecture.
White box switch, as a completely open platform, is typically used as a top-of-rack switch and/or as part of an SDN deployment. Unlike brand switch, white box switch hardware and software are separated. This separation of white box switch software and hardware makes white box switch very popular in SDN. Users have more freedom to buy software from one vendors and hardware from the other, which greatly splashing the overall cost. White box switch has advanced a lot from what it’s used to be and has get fully prepared for a broader adoption—it has improved significantly in cost and reliability, features and capabilities, as well as network operations.
White box switch is maturing into mainstream adoption in an SDN deployment, which rivals traditional switches witha much lower price and equivalent operational costs. White box switch has shown they can hold their own in SDN deployments and supporting industry standards. In SDN environment, the SDN controller serves as the OS of white box switch. The SDN controller usually use protocol like OpenFlow or another southbound API to program white box switch to create routing tables and route connections. This allows the customers to flexibly design and set their network and switches. SDN has become the primary drives of white box switch prevalent for the following reasons.
Openness: Although white box switch has no direct relation with SDN, they share the same characteristic—openness. White box switches provide the flexibility to choose hardware and software. As for SDN, it simplifies network design and operation by providing instructions through the SDN controllers instead of multiple, vendor-specific devices and protocols. This similarity makes SDN users accept the white box switches more easily in the aspect of concept.
Decreased Complexity: SDN allows all networking components to be controlled through a singular device. Both physical and virtual devices are controlled by a single API, making the work of network administrators much easier. And this control method convinces users that the quality of white box switch is reliable, for problems are often caused by software but not hardware.
Reduced Price: Many brand vendors do not attach much importance to the hardware manufacture, so some of them begin to expand the market of white box switch. And the quality of those white box switches has been verified by customers. Besides, many small vendors also cut their price to attract customer, which further brings down the cost.
It’s said that the proliferation of SDN technology will fundamentally transform the telecom industry. White box switch promises high levels of freedom for networking that greatly fits for SDN environment. It also helps avoid vendor lock-in and OEM shipping delays. Considering to start your own white box switch initiative? It’s suggested to gradually move to this field, and determine how white box switch deployments can benefit your network.