White Box Switch: Will It Be the Great Choice for Next Generation Network?
With the increasing maturity of cloud computing and 5G technology, large enterprises and data center providers have improved their requirements for network equipment. Therefore, more and more enterprises prefer white box switches for data centers to achieve simple and flexible management and deployment.
What Is White Box Switch?
White box switches, or white label switches, are open network switches with decoupling of hardware and software. They are usually based on Linux and run on off-the-shelf chips, which help network administrators customize the device according to the needs of the organization. Nowadays, white box switches are wildly used in large enterprises like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, etc.
Generally, white box switches have three main features: firstly, they are built on commodity hardware; secondly, they use Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASICs) from established vendors; thirdly, white box switches run an Open Network Operating System (ONOS). In addition, white box switches are commonly used in Software-defined Networking (SDN), which enables them to achieve network programmability—one of the most significant differences from traditional switches.
How Does White Box Switch Work?
As mentioned above, white box switches use standardized chips and ONOS, which can better meet users' needs to achieve seamless integration of network and computing storage at a relatively low price.
With the help of hardware and software decoupling technology, hardware in white box networking can be standardized while software can be customized, thus creating a flexible and open operating system. In this way, users can choose a suitable operating system based on their requirements. For instance, customers can buy hardware and software from different white box switch vendors, and then install it by themselves.
Furthermore, white box switches replace the proprietary switch interface from large legacy switch vendors with generic Linux interfaces, realizing network programmability while improving the performance of Linux platform at the same time. Besides, Linux interfaces are also more acceptable and easy-management for server administrators.
Why Is White Box Switch Getting Popular?
Compared with traditional switches, white box switches do show their advantages in several respects, including performance, operation, price, etc. That's the reason why they are increasingly becoming the first choice of many large enterprises.
High performance: White box switches usually have higher port density, so they perform better than traditional layer 2 or layer 3 switches. Additionally, white box switches are also more scalable without the limitation of traditional layer 2 or layer 3 protocols. Therefore, they can facilitate a more concise leaf-spine network topology while providing simpler connectivity and higher performance.
Simplicity: A large difference between white box switches and traditional switches is network programmability. With the help of ONOS, white box switches can easily achieve network automation and high flexible, scalable network connectivity, while the functions of traditional switches are quite limited.
Free choice: The traditional switches integrate hardware tightly into software, leaving users with no freedom of choice. In contrast, since hardware and software are disaggregated in a white box network, customers are free to choose and customize their hardware and software based on their needs.
Fast innovation: In traditional enterprise networks, companies handle the increased traffic loads by upgrading edge switches or switch chassis, which is time-consuming and also complex. However, because white box switches are assembled from commodity parts, they can innovate faster with a DevOps and community approach.
Low cost: Severed as a part of SDN deployments, white box switches support OpenFlow protocol, which can reduce the network cost. Besides, they can be sold with other open-source software or just as bare metal devices, significantly saving CapEx and OpEx compared to traditional networks.
White Box Switch Trends and Challenges in Data Center and Cloud
As more and more enterprises turn to network infrastructure that supports cloud computing, traditional switches cannot meet companies' demands for realizing the maximum profit. In this case, the advantages of white box switches have increasingly emerged.
Marketing Trend of White Box Switches
The data center market is fundamentally changing due to the impact of the pandemic. According to IDC, in the first half of 2020, the favored large-scale cloud environment white box switch revenue grew by more than 34%, which promoted segment from fourth in 2019 to third in the overall switch market.
In fact, the largest cloud providers, such as Google and Amazon, primarily deploy white box switches on their networks, which have pushed the development of white box switches market. However, with the segment market becoming gradually crowded, white box switches vendors will attempt to expand the market to tier-2 cloud providers, large enterprises or telecom service providers. In this way, the white box switches market share of the largest cloud providers may get threatened. For example, according to IDC, Cisco's share of data center switches has fallen from more than 53% to 41.4% in the first half of 2020.
To sum up, it is clear to see that white box switches are becoming popular among the cloud providers. Although they are in their early days, they still hold enormous potential for telecom networks and many data centers.
Challenges of White Box Switches
By now, you probably have a clear idea of the merits of white box switches. But no one is perfect. It's also necessary to know the challenges faced by white box switches.
For one thing, white box switches are mainly deployed in cloud data centers. As for large-scale network scenarios like metro network, they are still at their very early stage.
For another, the current market share of white box switches is still very low. In most cases, white box switches are deployed alongside traditional switches, which affects the formation of a complete end-to- end switch system. Thus, the performance benefits of white box switches will be limited.