Bare metal/White box: Solutions for Open Hyperscale Data Center.
May 15 , 2015
In recent days, war of words are exchanged between the titans (Cisco and HP): root of their discord is the trend of whitebox switch (CRN, 2015). Despite the points and counter points in the arguments of the titans, one thing is certain that trend towards whitebox is here to stay. Some pundits even predicting that open platform such as bare metal/ white box may overtake data center Ethernet switching market. According to a market research report from Infonetics, 12% of shipped data center Ethernet Switch ports in 2014 were white box and predictions are that quarters of all data center Ethernet switching ports will be bare metal/white box switch by 2018.
If you are following news, you may have notice that open networks data center trend is gradually unfolding. Organizations with hyperscale mega data centers such as Facebook are already using bare metal/white box switches. In fact, experiment to develop hyperscale energy efficient data center projects with bare metal/white box at Facebook given birth to OCP (open computing project) forum which is one of the leading software communities for open networking solutions.
So what is a bare metal switch or white box?
Figure 1. Diagrammatical representation of Open Network Environment using bare metal/ white box
The figure shows bybrid configuratinon.
Simply put, a bare metal switch is just the hardware, however it may include firmware and an universal OS installer. The main difference between a bare metal switch and white box is that the later includes NOS (Network Operating System) from 3rd party software vendors. At Agema Systems (http://www.agemasystems.com ), we provide a wide range of NOS software choices for our customers. You can select specific 3rd party software vendor such as IPInfusion or get a bare metal hardware with universal OS installer.
The table below presents different terminologies regarding white box and bare metal switch.
As shown in the figure 1, preloaded NOS based whitebox solutions includes API/plugins for centralize programmability including but not limited to provisioning, orchestration, control and automation. Figure 1 also depicts hybrid configuration for such solution. Alternatively, customer may choose only to use a bare metal switch with openflow or similar agent e.g. floodlight to connect with the centralized or distributed SDN (Software Defined Networking) controllers for network flow control. Such solutions can be extended to full SDN based network management, automation, control and orchestration depending upon software choices and in-house capabilities. Please refer to figure 1 for preliminary understanding.
Bare metal and white box switch provides some advantages over traditional networking gears since such open platform solutions offers great possibilities for innovation. As more and more software vendors begin to offer competitive software solutions, customers may find a range of software solutions with added functionality to choose from for a bargain price.
About the Author
Director of System Engineering at Agema Systems, Inc