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BLOG: The rise of white-box switches

Steve Garrison and Seamus Crehan | Nov. 21, 2013
Software-defined networking centralises control logic and argues for generic switch hardware -- and should drive strong adoption of white-box switches

The growing market for white-box switches
What does the market look like for white-box switches? We'll start by looking at the overall Ethernet switch market. Within that market, we'll drill down to the cloud (Web 2.0, portals, and hyperscale) and enterprise segments separately, since their trajectories and technology adoption rates vary.

The rise of white-box switches

Overall, the data center Ethernet switch market has seen tremendous growth and investment over the past four years, despite a constrained IT spending environment (see Figure 1). This revenue growth is even more impressive given the shift to fixed, top-of-rack switch architectures at the expense of more pricey, modular, chassis-based data center switches. Fixed, top-of-rack deployments far outpaced the overall data center switch market, with revenues more than tripling.

White boxes in the cloud
The cloud segment of the Ethernet switch market has seen exponential expansion as new companies, business models, and services are underpinned and enabled by massive data center networking infrastructures. Crehan Research estimates that in 2012 the total cloud segment accounted for about 4 million data center Ethernet switch ports — including OEM switch brands such as Arista, Cisco, Dell, IBM, and Juniper, as well as white-box switches.

Although a few very large cloud data center companies have deployed white-box data center switches, the majority currently uses OEM-branded data center switches. In large deployments, the price delta between white boxes and discounted, OEM-branded switches may not offer a compelling enough reason to shift to the white-box model. Conversely, in many smaller deployments, the scale may not be sufficient to make white-box economics work. Nonetheless, the level of interest in white boxes and the number of offerings continue to rise.

The rise of white-box switches

Crehan Research expects that the cloud market will see about a 25 percent shipment CAGR (compound annual growth rate) over the next five years, growing from less than 4 million ports in 2012 to 12 million-plus ports in 2017. This segment will likely see at least a gradual increase in white-box deployments. Combining these two factors results in a 32 percent shipment CAGR and a forecast of close to 5 million data center Ethernet white-box switch ports deployed in the cloud market segment by 2017 (see Figure 2).

White boxes in the enterprise
The enterprise data center switch market is rife with change and innovation. Over the past decade or so, enterprise data centers have moved from distributed to consolidated, physical to virtual, siloed to converged. At the same time, these data centers have had to handle a step-function shift in the demand curve for network traffic and storage, in conjunction with a flood of new client devices in the form of smartphones and tablets. And all of this while working with legacy infrastructures, since few of us have the luxury of starting over with a clean slate.


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