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Whitebox Switching

Whitebox switches have started to become more popular within large Data Centers. and if you look at the increase in Network Operating System Vendors it would seem it’s set to continue.

What is it?

Many people are familiar and associate the term whitebox with computer hardware such as servers, personal computers and unbranded systems that require a certain amount of configuration before they are production ready.

This differs from a commercial vendor that will provide fully tested hardware with all the software necessary for you to just plug and play.

So why do people choose whitebox systems? Well, 9/10 it’s purely a way of cutting cost. If you know what components you need and how they work, do you want to pay any extra for assurances and hardware replacement, or to put it another way is the cost saving greater than the risk in using an unbranded vendor? the answer to this question will always differ based on your business model and lets face it the cost saving.

Whitebox switching, also referred to as bare metal switching is slightly different from compute as you are not expected to purchase individual components and assemble the hardware yourself, Instead the hardware is prebuilt using off-the-shelf technologies.

The bare metal element comes in the fact that no operating system is installed by default instead any open network operating system (NOS) can be installed on top of the hardware, and over the past few years several companies have dedicated their resources to developing these operating systems.

Brite box

Another term you will come across is open networking switches or brite box, which stands for branded whitebox. Yup, large manufacturers not to be outdone by unknown hardware vendors are offering a generic hardware offering as well. What I’d take from this is that when companies such as Dell and HP are offering whitebox switches you can be certain that this is a solution that has some weight.

Isn’t this a bit risky?

The reality is the hardware in the bare metal switch is the same as the Broadcom chipset you purchase from an incumbent vendor. Historically, this was not the case, but inevitably the time came where the incumbent was unable to create unique chipsets better than a dedicated manufacturer.

That said we’ve all been in the situation, where the software vendor blames the hardware manufacturer and vice versa, which is a situation where nobody wins. On the whole if you require a single throat to choke, this is going to have to be a question for the software manufacturer. Most of which will provide full support on the proviso that you stick to their hardware compatibility list (HCL).

At the end of the day you will need to weigh up all of the factors such as cost, support and existing deployments.

Where should I start?

As with anything new, you should identify what you want from the solution. Identify a project that can utilize a whitebox solution as an option. Before reviewing NOS’s that tick your requirements and then compare it against a traditional vendors solution.

Who provides Whitebox?

The links below are by no means a complete list but they will hopefully provide you with additional information that may help with your decision process.

Switch Hardware Manufacturers


Brite box

Network Operating System Vendors

About Stephen Ransome

Stephen Ransome is an IT consultant and network nerd with experience ranging from SMBs to Service Providers, he has a passion for learning new technologies and delivering solutions that count. He has some alphabet soup, including CCIE#41102 and is far more cynical than he should be.