7 Signs  

In my view, there are 7 concrete signs that confirm data center network transformation is well underway (see: Is Data Center Network Transformation Real?). Each of these signs are based on innovations by Cloud Giants that are being adopted by mainstream data center organizations (enterprises and service providers). 

The first concrete sign is open networking (or disaggregated) switch hardware. Traditionally, the networking stack (ASIC, platform hardware, network OS) has been a proprietary, closed system – like the days of mainframe/mini computers. The x86 revolution disaggregated this stack, which has allowed innovations at each layer independently (in x86 CPU, Linux OS). 

Additionally, an industry-standard x86/Linux stack has led to tremendous innovations at newer layers of the stack, including server virtualization, Big Data, containers, hyperconverged infrastructure and IaaS clouds. Unfortunately, the networking mainframe – call it NetFrame – is still stuck in the legacy, 20th century architecture. Why should networking be starved of innovations?

Can open networking hardware keep up with proprietary, closed systems?

Cloud Giants have been deploying open networking switches in large volumes for many years now. They are the ones driving ASIC and platform roadmaps. They needed to get to 100G before the the rest of the market, and are pressing for 400G throughput per port. Today, there is practically no difference in HW performance and ASIC features between proprietary systems and open networking switches. The graph below shows the thriving ecosystem that is driving innovations at an accelerated pace.

Does this sign meet the principles of transformation test?

  • Must be based on technology/architectural construct: check, open networking switches are architected to allow 3rd party network OS (NOS) to be hosted. Open-source technologies such Open Network Install Environment (ONIE) and Open Network Linux (ONL), both OCP projects, allow rapid development and installation of NOS.

  • Has to be revolutionary: check, it’s 25+ years in the making since adoption of Ethernet/IP in the early 1990s. Like the x86 compute revolution, open networking is poised to revolutionize the networking industry.

  • Need to have market traction: open networking platforms are available directly from ODMs (whitebox) or branded providers (britebox) such as Dell EMC and HPE. Multiple SW suppliers are offering NOS for different use cases. More than one thousand mainstream customers of all sizes, including Global 2000, have deployed disaggregated network stacks for production use in data centers worldwide.


Do I need to purchase HW and SW separately? How do I get “one-throat-to-choke” support?

This is a FUD tactic pushed by the proprietary networking vendors. There is a well-established model to procure HW and SW from a single provider and obtain single-number support. Btw, this is no different than compute domain, where this disaggregated model has been the norm for over two decades. There are multiple options to procure the solution:

  • Channel partner or system integrator can provide a full solution (switches, NOS, cables/optics) to the end user.

  • The hardware provider (e.g. Dell EMC) resells a 3rd party NOS along with their own switch HW and cables/optics.

In regards to single-number support, either the NOS supplier or the OEM/System Integrator would be the one-stop shop for all of the technical support needs of the end user.

Do I need to have a networking software team?

Absolutely not, there is no need for software team or programming skills. This is another FUD pushed by proprietary networking vendors. For a given use case, customers can choose a NOS that provide a full turn-key solution for the networking team (leveraging CLI and GUI) or choose a NOS to integrate with their DevOps workflows (leveraging APIs).

What are mainstream customers’ benefits of Open Networking?

Mainstream IT organizations are undertaking network transformation initiatives to on-board cloud-style networking and associated benefits, including accelerated innovation, service velocity, automation, vendor choice and reduction in CapEx & OpEx. With Open Networking, CapEx reduction and HW vendor choice is immediate. With ONIE shipped with every open networking switch, there is standards-based auto-boot and zero-touch NOS installation, thus delivering Day-0 simplification and velocity. And, there is complete vendor choice. Customers can choose HW without changing NOS and vice versa, thus shifting power from proprietary vendors back to the customer.

"The decoupling of hardware from software in a network-centric solution has opened financial and technical doors for us. CAPEX affordability of the solution is excellent compared to hardware-centric alternatives, but the OPEX savings of a single, centrally managed visibility solution are equally impressive. The product is easy to operate, performs as advertised, is easy to scale and maintain."
-- IT Infrastructure Chief Architecture, Large Enterprise within the Manufacturing industry, viaPeer Insights: https://www.gartner.com/reviews/review/view/554932

"Our experience with Big Switch has been great. We are in the process of migrating to a new data center and decided to move away from Cisco for our switching platform. We felt that the port quality of code Cisco was producing, combined with its complexity was not a good fit for our organization. We selected Big Switch from a pool of vendors and chose them for their ease of implementation and integrations with our compute platforms. So far we have been very pleased with the decision. The technology, employees and overall vision have exceeded our expectations. It's operational simplicity and that there's no feature bloat. We also appreciate the fact that it runs on open switching which decreases concerns about vendor lock in long term." -- Assistant Director of Network Operations, Large Enterprise within the Services industry, via Peer Insights: https://www.gartner.com/reviews/review/view/553655

What’s Big Switch’s role in Open Networking?

Big Switch provides SW solutions for data center switching and visibility fabrics (Big Cloud Fabric and Big Monitoring Fabric, respectively), which run on open networking switch platforms from Dell EMC, HPE and Edgecore. Both BCF and BMF leverage cloud principles as first principles, including VPC and analytics – to enable hybrid cloud networking. Also, Big Switch is a co-sponsor of ONIE and has contributed its platform code to OCP under the Open Network Linux project. ONL allows hardware platform abstraction, so that 3rd party NOS providers can accelerate development with much less investment than traditionally required. Big Switch’s BCF and BMF are both built on ONL, which ensures that ONL is fully tested and deployed in production data centers.

Net-net, the Open Networking train has left the station. Customers are disregarding the proprietary vendor FUD and are deploying cloud-style infrastructure as a key strategy of their data center network transformation.

Care to guess Sign #2?

Prashant Gandhi
VP & Chief Product Officer

Prashant is responsible for Big Switch's Cloud-First Networking portfolio and strategy, including: product management, product marketing, technology partnerships/solutions and technical marketing. Prashant has been instrumental in the product strategy and development of Big Cloud Fabric and Big Monitoring Fabric products. Additionally, Prashant is responsible for Big Switch led open-source initiative, Open Network Linux (ONL), to accelerate adoption of open networking and HW vendor choice. You can connect with Prashant on LinkedIn.