Industry Voices—Doyle: State of play for white box switch deployments by CSPs

Despite some challenges, white box networking is key to the telecommunications industry, according to analyst Lee Doyle. (Pixabay)

White box switches with network operating systems (NOS) offer significant benefits in terms of cost and flexibility as compared to traditional switches and routers. Leading communication service providers (CSPs) have started initial deployments of white box solutions in their data centers, and are investigating product deployment of white box routers at the edge of their networks.

What is white box networking?

White box networking provides the ability to deploy commodity switches with an independent networking operating systems offering Layer 2 and Layer 3 intelligence. There are a number of hardware suppliers including Accton, Celestica, EdgeCore, Foxconn, Lanner, and Quanta. Suppliers of network operating systems include Arrcus, Big Switch, Cumulus, Kaloom, 128 Technology, Pica8, Pluribus, Snaproute and a number of open source options such as Sonic, DANOS and FBOSS.

The primary benefit of white box switches is cost. Acquisition costs of white box hardware and NOS can be 50% less than the branded switch and router products from Cisco, Arista or Juniper.  The open APIs offered by leading independent NOS solutions can also ease customization of switch or router deployments.

RELATED: Doyle: IBM and Red Hat synergies will modernize CSP operations

Status of white box networking

White box switching is widely deployed in the data centers of the leading hyperscale cloud providers. Leading CSPs have deployed white box switches and routers in a number of use cases, including their internal data centers and their networks.  Large network equipment providers (NEPs) have leveraged independent NOS solutions for their network infrastructure deployments.

CSP data centers

Large CSPs rely on multiple data centers for their external and internal operations. Like hyperscale cloud providers, CSPs can benefit from lower cost white box switching, especially as they increase the speed/capacity of their data center networks to 100GB and beyond. Cumulus has several data center switching deployments with CSPs, including applications such as customer data back-up and cloud connectivity. 

CSP networks

As part of larger NFV projects, white box deployment for switching or routing can bring significant cost benefits to CSPs. Ethernet switches and routing functions are widely deployed in various part of the wired and wireless networks. A couple examples include:

• Distributed central office (Cumulus)

• Network analytics (Big Switch)

• Verizon NFV (Big Switch, Dell, Red Hat)

The routing use case

White box network operating systems can offer a full suite of routing protocols and features. CSPs can flexibly deploy white box routers at various network locations including the edge of the network. White box routing is in an earlier stage of deployment compared to white box switching. Doyle Research expects the white box edge routing to bring broad deployments with communications service providers over the next few years. A leading example is the AT&T DANOS project, which is driven by Vyatta developed software, which was sold to Brocade and then bought by AT&T.

Use by network equipment providers

Leading network equipment providers ) also use white box software and hardware as the switching elements of their NFV solutions.  Examples include Ericsson (partnering with Pluribus) and Mavenir (partnering with Big Switch.)

Recommendations for CSPs

White box switching and routing provides an interesting, lower-cost alternative to branded Ethernet switch and router products. CSPs have many NOS alternatives, including branded and open source software to drive white box hardware. The overall market for white box hardware and software in CSPs is relatively small today—approximately $100 million according to Doyle Research—but has the potential for strong growth over the next five years.

New CSP data center and virtualized network deployments, such as 5G, are the key drivers for white box networking. The increased requirements for widespread IP routing at the network edge represent a clear opportunity for white boxes to displace incumbent routing platforms. Lack of a clear NOS market leader and integration, including service/support challenges, may inhibit widespread adoption.

Lee Doyle is principal analyst at Doyle Research, providing client-focused targeted analysis on the evolution of intelligent networks. He has over 25 years’ experience analyzing the IT, network, and telecom markets. Lee has written extensively on such topics as SDN, NFV, enterprise adoption of networking technologies, and IT-Telecom convergence. Before founding Doyle Research, Lee was group VP for network, telecom, and security research at IDC. Lee holds a B.A. in economics from Williams College. He can be reached at [email protected]; follow him @leedoyle_dc.

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceTelecom staff. They do not represent the opinions of FierceTelecom.