Whitebox vs Blackbox

whiteboxvsblackboxAt the moment there are a lot of discussions about Whitebox switches and how it changes the networking industry. Essentially the idea is that you buy your switch hardware and software separately. At the moment most of the network vendors use already merchant silicon like e.g. chips from Broadcom inside their switches. You can also buy the same hardware silicon inside a Whitebox switch.  The main benefit of Whitebox switches is that they are cheaper and you can also use any SFP/QSFP modules from the open market that you like. Additional to the hardware you also need an operating system for your whitebox switches like cumuls linux or an OS toolbox like the Facebook Open Switching System FBOSS. That runs on top of your hardware. Another aspect is that you can change your hard- or software supplier separately and not be dependent on a single vendor. On the other hand with the traditional blackbox appliance model the hard- and software comes as a tested package from a single vendor. For the vendors the challenge is that most of them have the same chips inside their switches. So they need to provide additional goodies on their switches like management, support, features and protocols to convince customers to buy their product.


The Networkautobahn View

For me the idea of Wihitebox is not new. In the Firewall space we have had the whitebox model for a long time. And I have been burned many times in situations where something has not worked and the hardware and the software vendor were finger pointing at each other instead of troubleshooting the actual problem. We are facing the same challenges with the whitebox switching. I doubt that whitebox will be revolutionizing the complete network industry. For customers that have the staff and the drive to go the whitebox road it has the obvious benefits of lower costs and independency. But that comes with some restrictions. All the testing and the developing process of new features that is done in a blackbox solution by a vendor is now outsourced to the customer. It can be a benefit to have the ability to add new features to your switches with your own developers. On the other hand not every organisation has developers available to do that job. In the classic blackbox model these task would be provided by the vendor. As always your choice will depend on your needs. I suggest the whitebox model is more attractive for large organisations that have their own developers and enough resources to do extensive testing in their own Lab environment. If you don´t have these resources available the traditional blackbox switches serve your needs better in most cases. I suggest whitebox switching will have a market impact on a specific type of customers like large cloud and datacenter providers. IMHO whitebox switching will be more of a niche product than something that revolutionizes the entire network industry. If the demand is high enough we will definitely see more vendors that add a separately available switching OS product that runs on whitebox switches to their portfolio.

About Dominik

Network problem solver
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