The Pros & Cons of a Potential Market Disrupter

What might the future of enterprise networking look like? With promises of lower cost, higher flexibility, and more control, the answer could potentially be white-box networking – the move toward open source network operating systems running on commodity hardware. This technology is just beginning to get attention from technology leaders, but has the potential to be a market disrupter and change the face of enterprise networking.

So, what does that mean exactly for the market? Traditionally, larger vendors offer proprietary products where the hardware and software is packaged in a single product offering. With white-box switching, generic hardware from one vendor can be matched with open source software from a different vendor to build a lower cost substitute without the additional cost of a service contract. This all sounds very promising, BUT as with any nascent technology, there are still a lot of questions surrounding it such as – Will this alternative offer a performance equal to the proprietary offerings? Will the management of the system be more complex? Will the economics of it be enough to tilt the scales?

To find out just what it would be like to live in a white-box world, Network World recently conducted a first of its kind product test on white-box switches through our Clear Choice Test program. Here are the 10 lessons we learned:

  1. White Box Wins on Price. When looking at face value, proprietary vendors’ starting price point plus service contract fees make commodity hardware’s, like white box, substantially lower list prices more favorable. Of course, it is important to note that final cost for the proprietary vendors depends heavily on quantity, features, supplier politics, and other factors.
  2. Higher Degree of Flexibility. Because it’s Linux based, open source that can be modified, a higher degree of flexibility is accessible for data center networking design and operations whereas when using a proprietary vendor offering there may be more constraints.
  3. Management is Easy. Another area that the white-box switch market has on its side is its degree of portability. For the proprietary players, it means the software is coupled with, and runs on, and only on, one vendor’s hardware. With white-box switching, it can run on multiple vendors’ hardware. Additionally, it makes it easy for network engineers. They can make changes to one box at a time, or on a few systems, or on thousands of switches.
  4. Switching Syntax is Different. Getting into the nuts and bolts of the technology for the layman can be confusing, but basically the set of rules setup for switching within the white-box offering is different than traditional models, which can make it more difficult for those working with the hardware that might be used to more traditional models.
  5. Routing Syntax is Mostly the Same. As with #4, the nitty gritty can be difficult to decipher, but with this it’s that between proprietary and white-box it’s kind of a wash in terms of routing since it’s a similar process meaning that when commands are set up to configure routing, they operate fairly similarly.
  6. There is a Learning Curve. If a company is already running on propriety offerings, they may be reluctant to switch over to the white-box offering. As with any new product there can be a learning curve involved that may be steep depending on the company’s team of network engineers and their level of experience with Linux. This could translate to time and money being put towards certifications that may turn off some organizations.
  7. Complexity of Data Storage. Traditional approaches use one configuration file to store data; however, the white-box offering differs in that the data lives in a lot of places.
  8. Combatting the Complexity. Generic offerings know what the users of this technology are used to seeing and are working on some ways to combat the complexity of data being stored in multiple places, but there’s still a lot to do in that area.
  9. Excellent Performance across the Board. The team found strong results so performance is a non-issue when comparing proprietary to generic offerings.
  10. PREDICTION – There may be a white-box in your future. The Network World team finishes on the note that, “in the end, the decision to embrace white-box switching will depend on multiple factors, including economics, familiarity with Linux, sunken investment in training and certifications, and dependence on proprietary features. Any one of these might be a good reason to stick with proprietary switches, at least for now. But we think that first one, economics, ultimately will matter most.”

Let us know what you think – are you ready for white-box switching?

For the full test results and review, please visit: For a video of the testing, please visit:


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