What is Open Networking / Whitebox Switch?
The White Box concept is similar to the concept of servers, we buy servers today and load an operating system (can be Windows, Linux etc.) of our choice.
Types of Open Networking Switches –
Bare Metal switch
The name Bare Metal says it all as there is almost nothing except metal. A Bare Metal switch does not have any operating system installed on it. It is a chassis with multiple ports. Another company buys it and loads its own operating system to make it functional. At minimum, it has a boot loader installed- Open Network Install Environment (ONIE), which enables Operating System (OS) installation.
Bare Metal switches are mainly manufactured by Taiwanese companies like Delta Network Inc Accton, Quanta QCT and Alpha networks. These companies are also called ODMs (Original Device Manufacturers). Therefore, when you buy a switch from an ODM, you just get a bare metal switch.
- What is ONIE (Open Network Install Environment)? – Introduced by Cumulus Networks, open network install environment (ONIE) combines a boot loader and a small Linux operating system. Having been pre-installed on bare metal switches where software and bare-metal hardware are sold separately, customers can freely choose network OS from a range of sources over a network using IPv4, IPv6 and TFTP, or even locally from a USB flash drive. ONIE enables switch hardware suppliers to manage their operations based on a small number of hardware SKUs, enabling a thriving ecosystem of both network hardware and network OS alternatives.
White Box Switch
A white box switch has an operating system installed on a Bare Metal switch; that is the only difference with a Bare Metal switch. White Box switch = Bare Metal switch + Operating System (OS Like – Cumulus Linux, Broadcom ICOS, IpInfusion and Pica8.)
Britebox is basically a branded white box. Britebox = BRanded WhITEBOX.
For example brand companies like HP and Dell sell these switches under their brand names but actually these are the white box switches Install on Open Os like – Cumulus Linux, Broadcom ICOS, IpInfusion or Pica8 etc.,
Proprietary (Vendor Lock-in/Black Box) switch Vs Baremetal / Whitebox
Why we use Whitebox Switches?
- Disaggregation provides FREEDOM of choice and removes vendor lock-in.
- Greater CONTROL over Network Infrastructure through open software platforms.
- Rapid INNOVATION through a community and devops approach.
- Full AUTOMATION Infrastructure meeting business needs (Use of Provisioning, Management and Monitoring Tools, etc.).
- And …..Reduces CAPEX and
Many peoples have many query about the Baremetal / Whitebox Switch as below –
- How do I get support?
You will get support from your ODM and NOS (network OS) provider. Similar to other vendors where you log a ticket, via email or phone call. Also you have access to your NOS vendor website to download new updates and patches, and in some NOS, the switch gets the updates automatically without you noticing. Your hardware is supported by warranty and in case of a failure; you can return it to the hardware vendor and get a new one.
- Where do I buy Optics and SFPs?
You can buy from all standard SFP vendors like Delta Network Inc., Finisar, Smart Optics, etc. Normally they are One Fifth of the price you were paying for OEM Optics of Networking vendors.
- How reliable is the switch hardware? Why it is white box?
The switch hardware is manufactured by the same factory who produces the switches for big networking vendors. The big networking vendors don’t have their own factory, they outsource it to Asian OEM factories. In fact, the hardware design of bare metal switches is much simpler then others as they use a robust modular CPU card instead of embedding the CPU on the main switch ASIC board.
- How do I manage the switch? How is its CLI?
For sure you have tried different switches and experienced their OS. IOS, JunOS, FOS, Comware, etc. Are they really different? NO. Similarly the Network Operating System which you load on bare metal switch has similar CLI, commands and concepts. If you are a Linux house and enjoy Linux shell, you will love Cumulus NOS as it is a pure Linux distribution NOS. Also you get the same look and feel CLI link Cisco.
- Can we able to change the NOS, if I hated it?
If you hated it (NOS), you can change its Operating system. (If you hate Windows 8, you will install Windows 10, or Ubuntu Linux, you won’t hate your laptop). If you really hated it, still that box is a switch and will forward traffic as long as you give AC power.
- Where can I position the white box switches?
In Campus (Edge or Aggregaton) or Data center or Service Provider.
- What is the catch with bare metal switches?
You have to study the features of different NOS and match it with your requirements. Don’t buy the NOS blindly.
- Is this really commercialized? Who have adopted it?
Yes. For sure you are not the only one. There are many use cases mostly in places where many switches are required such as datacenter, Internet Exchange, Financials, ISPs, Fiber To Home, etc. In fact many service providers who deployed bare metal switches doesn’t make it public to stay competitive and not let other competitors to know there are low cost way to have a robust network.
Don’t be afraid of trying the Baremetal / Whitebox network switches. You won’t lose anything. White box and disaggregated networking do deliver more openness in building your network. It also offers cost reduction in both CAPEX and OPEX, choice of a way to manage your network, and reduces your dependence on a single all-in-one vendor.