With a low cost and excellent performance, white box switch has been a hot topic in the past few years. However, the basic definition of white box switch is still vague and ambiguous as a result of various reasons. Firstly, no one has ever made an accurate and standard conception of white box switches before; secondly, manufacturer with different interests and demands will deliberately obscure the definition of white box switch; thirdly, people who are unaware of the truth of Internet tend to be wrongly informed, which also lead to chaos in its definition. Some even simply equate a white box switch with an OEM switch. So what is a white box switch exactly?
According to its literal meaning, white box switches refer to network switch without a label. However, there exists a deep connotation in white box switches which means this kind of switches doesn’t focus on brand. Based on this core idea, to better understand white box switches, here we might as well divide them into the following three models:
- Bare-mental switch. It is the fundamental type of white box switch with no network operating system loaded on them except a boot loader. Customers can purchase a software through a third party like Big Switch, Cumulus, and Pica8 or even write a software by themselves. They ask for hardware support from hardware vendors and software support from software vendors.
- White box switch. In this model, the supplier will offer switches with both hardware and software (the supplier only provide one of them, either hardware or software, but they got the authority of another from their partners). So customers can seek support for both hardware and software from one supplier. Besides, there are options for customers to choose for both hardware and software.
- OEM switches. The hardware and software of the switch are manufactured and provided by an OEM (original equipment manufacturer). These OEMs design and manufacture a switch as specified by another company to be rebranded or not branded. This kind of switch is also called white box switch by many people. And suppliers offering this service are called white box supplier, especially when the supplier is small and not well-known.
With a wide choice of networking software based on low-cost, commodity hardware, white box switches are bound to have a vast market in the future. Also, with the deployment of SDN, there is an increasing interest in white box switches within the IT community. In the previous text, we have divided white box switches into three types. Next, I will analyze the market for white box switches based upon this classification.
- Bare-mental switches have been most widely used with a customer group mainly from networking giants like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. They purchase a bare-mental switch and develop networking software by themselves. In china, large companies like Baidu, Alibaba, Tecent, and JD also tried this model, with Baidu being the most successful example. The reason why these giants chose such a kind of white box switch is that they are confident and capable enough to handle the development and operation of the software for a switch. Besides, these major technology firm have an extremely large-scale network, which requires them to control the network completely by themselves.
- The customers for the second type are mainly distributed abroad with only a few in China. They mainly come from large financial companies, international data corporation and some network operators, whose size may only behind those internet giants. Cost saving is the most important driving force for them to buy a white box switch. Also, part of these enterprises chose it just for the differentiated operating system provided by white box suppliers who are willing to satisfy their specific demands through customized service.
- The customer for the third type is distributed both at home and abroad. Although the market for this part is smaller than the first two, it has the largest potential for its customer group involving a large number of VARs (value added resellers), system integrators, IT products providers and many medium-sized clients. They adopt a white box switch for varied reasons such as improving the production line and saving costs.
Through this essay, we can see clearly that white box switch is much more than an OEM switch and the latter can be classified as one kind of the former. With a lower cost, excellent performance and huge market potential, white box switch will definitely grow up as the mainstream for switch adoption.