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8 “Fake News” Items that Tried to Hold Back Open Networking

 

Facts Myths written on a chalkboardThe parallels between the efforts of the various open networking communities to modernize the networking industry and a Saturday afternoon pee-wee soccer scrum are far too close for comfort.  Both are characterized by loads of noisy, colorful – and mostly circular – movement – eventually followed by exhausted players staring at a ball that seems to be sitting pretty much right where it started.

At least that’s the way it’s been playing out for all the intrepid IT stewards running large enterprise networks — until now.  After years of enduring legacy-vendor-driven “fake news” stories paired with whispered misdirection designed to hold back the disaggregated white box open networking movement as a whole, truth has – finally — won out. 

Multiple Fortune 100 companies are now deploying open white box switches running Pica8’s PICOS® network operating system in their campus and branch office networks, mostly replacing aging Cisco and Juniper architectures.  (A parallel, in a sense, to the on-going white box tsunami in the data center.) Enterprise IT teams now realize that the access edge for campus networks is fully in play for long-overdue upgrades and replacements by more modern, simpler, more flexible, and vastly more cost-effective open white box networking solutions.

So, what are some the popular “fake news” storylines used in this disinformation campaign? Let's take a look.

Fake News

1. “White box switches are nothing but cheap-and cheerful knock-offs of “real” networking hardware.”

Reality Check

Bulletin! Today’s white box switches are built by the same companies on the same production lines that the legacy networking vendors use.  More years ago than I care to admit, I once worked at the Smirnoff vodka plant in Menlo Park bottling airline miniatures that were labeled “Bottled Exclusively for United,” followed immediately by “Bottled exclusively for American,” and so on at 400 bottles per case.  It’s exactly like that.

Fake News

2. The “White box switches offer lower performance and are not as reliable” corollary to item #1.

Reality Check

A full-on five Pinocchios for this one. In almost all cases, white box switches actually offer higher performance – always the latest switch ASICs because they don’t have to wait for custom integrated software to be developed — and reliability. Even better, since you can generally purchase two white box switches for less than the cost of one legacy switch, IT ops can now add redundant switches at the access edge to tack on another “9” for reliability to their architectures (while still lowering their TCO).

Fake News

3. “It’s not worth the hassle of changing out your networking infrastructure as it’s only 10 percent of your total IT spend.”
(This one is the biggie that the legacy guys have been trotting out quite aggressively of late.)

Reality Check

Seriously?? At what point is an IT-spend number big enough to matter?  Would saving over $250K just on one switch not be interesting?  For example, replacing a single, fully configured Cisco 6509 aggregation-layer switch ($305,000 list price) with an equivalent white box solution that lists for $44,000 — and sports 44 additional 10G uplinks, two additional 40G uplinks, and consumes five fewer RUs – definitely moves this decision well into “no brainer” territory.  And, at the access edge itself, large enterprises are looking to upgrade tens of thousands of smaller switches.  This smells like “fake news” born of desperation.

Fake News

4. “Existing legacy networks are strategic investments that you really don’t want to walk away from.”

Reality Check

Strategic investments in what?  Sheet metal and power cords? In incumbent account reps’ continuing ability win cruises in sales contests? (See 1-3 above.) Legacy networking sales reps have already been on thousands of company-paid vacations courtesy of their enterprise customers’ largess born from lack of options.  How about simpler, easier-to-use networks that let the IT folks go out and see the world instead?

Fake News

5. “Open Networking means running scary Linux and ever-morphing open-source code in your mission-critical enterprise
networks.”

Reality Check

Setting aside for the moment the obvious fact that legacy switch NOS software is also Linux code, enterprise-grade open networking white box switching solutions like PICOS are based on open standards, not open source.  Typically, an open source component to a NOS solution, such as XORP, which Pica8 acquired and integrated into PICOS, is fully supported code that is maintained by a company, not by a community.

Fake News

6. “Open Networking relies on SDN, which has been a huge market disappointment in the enterprise space. What you
need now is intent-based networking.”

Reality Check

Wow. Lots to unpack here.

First, can someone, please, stage an intervention with Gartner (et al.) for trying to rebrand the value of SDN as IBN, only minus the openness, cost savings, and ability to mix and match hardware?

To be fair, what started as an academic exercise in disaggregation – OpenFlow/SDN – did get a wee bit too far out over its skis trying to be a full-on replacement solution for everything in the network all at once.  Feeling threatened nevertheless, legacy networking vendors did successfully stall the market with distractions like ACI (All Cisco Inside) and the Scud missile called ODL, which was aimed squarely at halting a nascent SDN controller market in its tracks.

But, just as in the data centers themselves, disaggregated white box open networking solutions for the enterprise campus today are focused on Layer2/Layer3 feature sets, not on OpenFlow/SDN.  And, uniquely in Pica8’s case, both L2/L3 and OpenFlow can control all the switch ports in a Pica8 network at the same time, giving enterprises all the benefits of IBN-type control and security while still maintaining the overwhelming cost and flexibility advantages of the white box business model.  What’s not to like?

Fake News

7. “Having separate software and hardware that you have to deploy, configure and maintain increases the complexity of
your network and is an additional strain on IT resources.”

Reality Check

Legacy-vendor three-tier enterprise networking solutions have accreted millions of lines of code and thousands of bespoke edge-case features over the years, making it some of the most complex equipment on the planet to deploy and maintain. And for all that effort, companies basically end up with static features and network workflows that are identical to what their market competitors can offer.

On the other hand, modern, disaggregated, open networking enterprise campus networks radically simplify switch deployment and management – Pica8’s PicaPilotTM white box switch automation framework, for example, compresses the access and aggregation layers to one and manages dozens of switches as a single, logical switch – while also providing a completely flexible workflow.  Enterprises are now free to differentiate in their own verticals, just like they used to do in the early days of networking.

Fake News

8. “Nobody ever got fired for buying Cisco.”

Reality Check

See “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.” (circa 1990).

(As Cisco’s very first marketing employee – back when it was pretty much a bunch of grad students run amok — Jeff played a major role in popularizing the networking technology behind the Internet, having invented things like the router icon and the iOS brand while helping grow Cisco from $20M (pre-IPO) to $2B revenue in six years. He now runs marketing for Pica8.)

Tagged White Box Switch, White Box Networking, Networking, PICA8, SDN, open networking