Why I’m so fascinated with white box switching
All the hype
White box switching seems to be all the networking hype. For some in-depth research, check out this podcast from packet pushers about ATT making its move into white box switching. Cisco is also committed to offering a decoupled version of IOS-XR from Cisco hardware to enable running their NOS on OCP (open compute project) compliant hardware aka “white box switching.” Fascinating stuff, but what’s the big deal? Well, I’m going to try and make a comparison.
A Lego comparison
I’m a huge adult fan of Lego (AFOL). I remember dumping old tin popcorn bins with Legos all over my bedroom floor as a child. I’m more organized today, but I can’t help tearing down and building new creations. Now imagine you have an advanced Lego technic set put together. You have gears that move, hinges that open and close, wheels turn, etc. Now imagine all those connecting pieces glued together. A nightmare for those AFOL’s who want to rebuild something special.
Picture that glued together Lego set as a networking switch or router. Sure you can plug and unplug a few items, configure features within the CLI, and even get some sweet stats via SNMP. However, your switch or router’s underlying code is static which you can’t change. You’re at the mercy of the vendors nicely glued together product. I’m not suggesting that’s necessarily a bad thing, but you get where I’m going. With white box switching, you finally get to be a bit more creative with your switch or router. You can unload the default network operating system and load up something completely different. You’ve just expanded your imagination beyond one vendor and their fixed code.
A modular future
Maybe we’ll start to see advanced hardware modularity for white box switching as well. You need more processing power; upgrade your CPU. You need more space for your NOS apps or massively large routing tables, then go ahead and add more RAM. Are you a Cisco or Cumulus fan, who cares, you choose what NOS to run. Now you’re building like an AFOL. The possibilities of customization that deliver high flexibility are endless.