White box switch, how much do you know?
2017-10-04
The white box is not a new concept, we are most familiar with the “white box desktop computer”, buy a stack of hardware assembly, choose an operating system such as Windows, Ubuntu to install, and finally cheaper half the money than “branded desktop”. The white box switch corresponds to the brand switch. There are two types of business models in the white switch, one is the white box switch, the other is the bare metal switch. The same point in both modes is that the hardware is provided by the ODM, the difference is that the white box switch comes with the software, the bare metal switch is purchased by the user or the software is selected.
White box switch, how much do you know?
It is hard to say who is inferior between a White box and bare metal switch, each applicable to different application scenarios. Let us review the history of this white card to try to explore the origin and application of white-box and bare-metal switches.

Google has a self-built data center around the world, using the backbone network (Backbone Network, also known as the WAN network) to interconnect. With the rapid growth of Google business, they spent a lot of money to rent submarine fiber cable to meet the peak demand, but the lack of bandwidth utilization, because commercial routers usually use a raw method like static Hash to load the traffic.

What does Google need to do to transform the WAN network? Nothing more than switch hardware and switch software. Hardware is simple, many ODM manufacturers can produce. Flow planning of the upper software for Google is very simple, the only missing technology is the switch on the flow planning. Therefore, Google recruited a lot of cisco/juniper core engineers. The B4 project was born, and the core of the project was the flexible scheduling of convection through SDN. Google self-research switch operating system, controller, hardware through the maturity of ODM mass production. Putting the device on a commercial router, the traffic flow through the OpenFlow protocol is carefully planned to improve the bandwidth utilization of the WAN exit. The B4 project is very successful, and the link bandwidth utilization is said to have increased by more than three times and close to 100%, beyond its initial expectations.

Google’s model belongs to a bare-metal switch that buys switch hardware from ODM. Self-research software, the model not only greatly reduces the cost of Google WAN network, but also through the rapid iterative software, the use of SDN concept to optimize network deeply.

From Google’s success, a group of visionary people sees the business opportunities. Can we do an open switch software, do a similar to Microsoft’s switch software company? JR Rives based on this consideration, leaving Google, created Cumulus.

Cumulus’s goal is Wall Street’s financial institutions, Wall Street has a feature that is particularly fond of new technologies, and they embrace the technology of changing the IT staff’s maintenance practices for generations of business networks, switching from the command line of different switch vendors to standard Server Linux operation and maintenance mode. But Wall Street people have another habit, that is more lazy, like a novelty, but more willing to be some people behind the dirty work all day. Cumulus completed a very innovative switch operating system, but there is no way to support the entire white box industry chain, including channels, operation, and maintenance services, business models more or sell hard machine software program, that is, sales of white-box switches.

The development of mobile Internet, 4k/8k HD video, artificial intelligence, Internet of things and gene sequencing needs the support of cloud computing, which brings huge market to the data center’s switch market. A large number of chip manufacturers into the data center Exchange chip research and development, including Barefoot, Broadcom, Cavium, Mellanox, MTK. The number of chip manufacturers is faster than the number of equipment vendors, the diversification of the chip manufacturers bring a variety of hardware platforms. Commercial switch vendors and switch software vendors need to devote substantial resources to the adaptation research and development of different chip manufacturers.

Cumulus most of the business model at that time belongs to the white box switch, from the ODM purchase hardware, pre-installed Cumulus SDN software operating system, packaged to provide Wall Street, Wall Street does not need to worry about buying hardware, choose the software, directly feel the charm of SDN. As the hardware and software at the time did not fully decouple, adapt to different switching chips, hardware version of the workload of a linear growth, so the commercial market (non-self-research) bare metal market is not great.

Microsoft at this appropriate time to propose the SAI (Switch Adoy Interface) interface, redefine a set of standard switching chip driver interface, immediately get the strong support of chip manufacturers, Barefoot, Cavium, Mellanox, Centec and so on into which, Has supported two layers, three layers, ACL, QoS and other perfect feature set. But also supported by the open source operating system, HP open source Open Platform Switch, Sonic SAI interface management exchange chips are used, SAI significantly reduces the switch to adapt to different switch chip hardware version of the workload. If you use the standard hardware of the OCP, use SAI’s standard chip interface, adopting a new hardware theoretically there is only the amount of debugging effort.

Internet giants, operators, and bare metal switches through the honeymoon period, found that bare metal SDN management is very attractive, fast business, management is also convenient. But there are also sweet troubles between different manufacturers are not easy to coexist. Each vendor to provide solutions are not the same, some through OpenFlow to manage the switch, and some through Netconf to model, and some use OpenConfig, different management and operation and maintenance methods so that users are difficult to mix networking.

The internet giant, which has the right to speak, has started to put forward a standardized demand on the south side of the controller. China Mobile has issued a white paper on China Mobile’s technology vision 2020+, the introduction of SDN technology into PTN, the controller through the standard OpenFlow as the interface to manage the supply of different equipment manufacturers of the switch, on the one hand, on the support of equipment manufacturers like Huawei, south of the standardization of the interface also let many other small and medium-sized manufacturers get access to the operator’s opportunity. Unicom in 2016 and AT & T, Verizon, SKT, NTT joint open source R & D agency ON.Lab (open source network laboratory), jointly launched the open source network project CORD (Central Office Re-Architected as a Data Center), also carried out the south Interface standardization.

Standardized interfaces greatly promote the development of the biosphere, switch software has open source OS, while there is a commercial OS, ODM vendors continue to support the OCP standard hardware, the bottom has a standardized SAI interface and a wide array of exchange chips.

Conclusion
Review the entire timeline, from the initial purchase of the Internet giant ODM hardware, since the development software to propose the concept of bare metal switch to cumulus and other manufacturers began to try ODM hardware with software of the white box switch mode; to today’s standardized interface for software and hardware decoupling, commercial market bare-metal switch mode is also developing rapidly.

Glossary
White box switch: It is not a new concept. Original equipment manufacturers (ODMs) have built devices for well-known suppliers over the years, using ODM hardware, installing their own operating systems, and selling products as a whole, and usually with a Support contract. The white box switch is different in that, the ODM will sell the switch without the operating system to the user. These switches are cheaper compared to similar switches from traditional network providers because they do not have an operating system installed.

SDN: Software Defined Network (SDN) is a new network innovation architecture of Emulex network. It is an implementation of network virtualization. Its core technology, OpenFlow, separates network control plane from data plane The flexibility of network traffic makes the network more intelligent as a pipeline.
SD-WAN: Software Defined WAN, a segment of Software Defined Network (SDN) technology, is a fast-paced new technology for enterprise-wide WAN layouts. SD-WAN is software programmable and commercialized Hardware, combined to provide automated, low-cost, high-efficiency WAN layout services, may replace the traditional WAN layout technology.
OpenFlow: In layman’s terms, OpenFlow is using a protocol similar to the API process for configuring network switches. OpenFlow’s idea is simple, network equipment maintenance of a flow table and only in accordance with flow table forwarding, flow table itself, the generation, maintenance, issued entirely by the external controller to achieve.
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