What is White box Switching?
Network switch is the main component of telecommunication networks especially in the case of fiber optics networks. In the traditional switch choice of a specific vendor switch you are bound by software provided by the vendor. The switch market is monopolized for several years with vendors such as Cisco, HP, Juniper etc. This trend was recently broken by a new type of switch called white box switch.
Today we look more in detail about Which box switching or white box networking , its features, advantages , use cases etc.
White Box Switching
Due to the complexity of traditional networks, evaluation of white box switching (or white box networking) has come as an ideal solution for hyper scalable data centres. Some of the limitations of traditional networks are:
- Complicated protocols to grow networks
- Manual configurations have limitations
- VLANs do not scale and cannot be reused across data centres
- STP is unstable, comes with proprietary extensions which makes is incompatible, and lot of ports are blocked
- Troubleshooting issues is a pain as skilled personnel required to assist here
- The network becomes the stopper for business most of the times
White box switching is a new form of networking model where hyper scale data centres adopt commoditized networking by using white box switches providing investment protection by avoidance of vendor lock-in.
- White box switch is independent of hardware and it can use the software from any other provider. This allows them to build and set up flexible network design for their network and switches.
- White box switches are most popular in SDN (Software Defined network). White box switches can be programmed to create routing tables and route connections using OpenFlow protocol or another south bound API in SDN environments.
- White box switches are low in cost as compared to traditional switches and popular for both large data centres and small networks.
- White box switches have high port density.
- A white box switch comes preloaded with minimal software or may be sold as a bare metal device. These switches can be customized to meet organization specific business and networking requirements.
- White box switches are used to support a wide range of open-source management tools such as OpenStack , Puppet and Chef.
- Most white box switches adopt ‘open’ Linux based NOS (Network operating system) which is designed to be separated or segregated from the underlying hardware, letting the user change hardware box or NOS as per the will. They rely on an operating system which might come preinstalled to integrate layer 2 / layer 3 topology and support basic networking features.
- These are commodity / cheaper switch boxes built on merchant silicon by Taiwanese manufacturer known as original device manufacturers (ODM) such as Accton, Quanta and Alpha etc. Small start-up companies like Cumulus networks, Big Switch networks, Pica8 etc. buy bare metal switches from Taiwanese ODMs and load their operating system and sell these switches as white boxes. Like Cumulus uses Linux operating system, Pica8 uses PicOS and Big switch uses Switch light OS.
Advantages of White Box Switch
- They are simple to operate
- They are flexible and independent of underlying hardware
- Limited features by high performance is guaranteed
- Fabric architecture enable multiple switches to act as single unit
- Segmentation and security of network virtualization
- API driven network automation
Use cases of White Box Switching
- Big companies like Facebook, Amazon and Google need massive deployment of switches in their large data centres. The number of ports requirement is quite high , white box switch fit perfectly due to high port density
- Web scale companies looking for flexibility and openness in their switch platform where white box switches fit swiftly
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Basics of SDN and Open Flow Network Architecture