White-box switches yield initial savings but pose challenges

Integrating white-box switches into multi-vendor environments presents management and support issues.

Despite the clear cost benefits, white-box switches outfitted with independent network operating systems (NOS) solutions have seen only limited adoption in leading enterprise IT shops.  

That’s due to the lack of a clear market leader, implementation challenges and concerns about service and support that have steered IT pros toward traditional, branded-box Ethernet switches instead.

But maturing technology and new support alliances are making white-box switches an attractive alternative for greenfield deployments and for infrastructure that’s being upgraded to give performance boosts to data centers, campuses and branch offices.

White box switching provides the ability to deploy commodity switches with separate NOSes to drive layer 2 and 3 network intelligence. The NOS can come pre-installed on the switch or be purchased separately.

Suppliers of white-box network hardware on Broadcom chips include Accton, DELL, Celestica, EdgeCore, Foxconn, Lanner, and Quanta.  Suppliers of network operating systems for white box hardware include Arrcus, Kaloom, Cumulus, Big Switch, Pica 8, Pluribus and Snaproute.   Open source NOS options include FBOSS (from Facebook and OCP) and Sonic (from Microsoft).

White box switching, with internally developed networking software, is widely deployed in the data centers of the leading hyperscale cloud providers such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft.  Others that have deployed white-box switches with branded NOS software include large communications service providers (CSPs) and Tier 2 cloud providers.

Benefits of White Box Switching

The primary benefit of white-box switches is the acquisition cost, which can be 50 percent less than branded switch and router options from Cisco, Arista or Juniper.  Other benefits include the open APIs offered by leading NOSes that enable customization of switch deployments for the select group of customers interested in this capability.

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