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A who's who of white box switch vendors

White box networking gives IT organizations more freedom of choice for network hardware and OSes. It's a young and changing market, with a mix of vendor involvement.

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Modern Infrastructure: The merits of white box switching:

The following is part two of a series on White Box Switching.

Generically branded switches with no default network operating system -- white boxes -- are available from any number of manufacturers.

Vendors such as Accton, Delta Networks and Quanta Cloud Technology sell their hardware under the names Edge-Core Networks, Agema Systems and iwNetworks, respectively. In addition, well-known names like Dell have gotten into the brite-box market, which is analyst firm Gartner's term for branded white boxes.

Once you choose amongst white box switch vendors, you need to add the network operating system (NOS). This market is rapidly evolving, and rumors abound about new entrants both from startups and incumbent vendors that don't want to miss out on the potential opportunity. Although not a definitive list, here are some examples:

  1. Big Switch Networks offers the Switch Light NOS, which is not a NOS that an operator interacts with, but rather is an agent for an application running on an SDN controller. Big Switch's Big Cloud Fabric and Big Monitoring Fabric controller applications program white box switches in the fabric via the Switch Light NOS.
  2. Pica8, with its PicOS, offers a full-featured white box NOS that can be configured via a traditional CLI as well as modern automation tools.
  3. Cumulus Networks sells Cumulus Linux, a true Linux distribution paired with a hardware abstraction layer. Cumulus Linux is aimed at shops that already use automation tools to manage the network infrastructure and which would like to automate network switch configuration using those existing tools.
  4. Juniper Networks introduced the QFX5200 line of access switches in November, its first platform to run a disaggregated version of Junos OS. Customers can deploy third-party network services or applications directly on Juniper platforms and program directly to Juniper systems using the Open Compute Project sofware model. Juniper also offers the OCX1100, a brite-box switch running a version of Junos that can run another NOS, which is aimed at cloud providers. 
  5. Gigamon, a major provider of network visibility fabrics, has ported its GigaVUE-OS to white box switches.
  6. Hewlett-Packard added a brite-box product to its networking mix. The Accton switch runs Cumulus Networks' NOS.
  7. Dell has bet big on white box networking, offering several of its own products as open switches, and supporting NOSes from vendors like Big Switch and Cumulus.
  8. IP Infusion has historically sold to networking vendors, but now offers its OcNOS product to white box users.

Big networking vendors that sell big iron naturally aren't interested in an open networking model. That would make their relationships with customers more tenuous. Representatives of Cisco and Arista have decried or at least deemphasized the impact white box is having on the switching market -- this, despite having network operating systems that could be adapted to the white box model.

That said, buyers vote with their wallets. If enough dollars switch towards white box switch vendors and NOSes, the big suppliers will be forced to adapt. Time will tell, and it's early days yet.

This was last published in November 2015

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