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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

Along with these changes, we're seeing the transition from general-purpose switches deployed in data centers to switches specially built for the data center. This is shown by Cisco's transition from Catalyst (a general-purpose switch that can be used for the data center) to Nexus (a switch specifically built for the data center) and the rise of data center switch specialist Arista Networks.

As Figure 2 shows, even with a much slower growth rate than the cloud, we still expect the enterprise to remain a majority of the data center Ethernet switch market through 2017. Within this market we expect to see much slower adoption of white-box switches because of factors such as more diverse environments, longer and closer ties to existing switch vendors, end-to-end or full solution purchases, and vendor-provided value-added services such as technical support. Furthermore, with an average data center switch lifecycle in the enterprise in excess of four years, we need to keep in mind that a migration to new deployment models will be gradual for this segment as a whole.

How it all adds up
Combining both the enterprise and cloud white-box adoption curves results in Crehan's prediction of 3 million ports in 2014 or 7 percent of overall shipments. By 2017, we forecast that this will have increased to over 8 million ports or 15 percent of total data center switch port shipments.

While we believe adoption of white-box switches will be gradual, they will form an important part of the data center landscape over the coming years. SDN will flourish with open systems, and white-box switches will be an important part of that growth.


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