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Juniper offers branded white box switch

Juniper Networks offers a top-of-rack white box switch with its Junos operating system and full enterprise support.

Juniper Networks will offer a top-of-rack branded white box switch in an effort to appeal to large cloud provi...

ders.

Juniper will sell the OCX1100 with its Junos operating system installed, but network engineers will have the option of running third-party software on it. The switch is designed to conform to the Open Compute Project's switch initiative. It supports the Open Network Install Environment, Open Compute's boot loader, which allows engineers to boot up alternative operating systems on the hardware.

"The largest cloud providers in the world are looking at Layer 3 IP fabric architectures, and at least a few of them have been very vocal about using white box switching," said Mike Marcellin, Juniper's senior vice president for strategy and marketing.

A white box switch offers data center operators lower costs and operational flexibility, but such switches are also less reliable, he said. Large cloud providers can tolerate that lower reliability because they have scale-out architectures that can route around failures and they have in-house expertise capable of dealing with switch failures. Marcellin said the bare-metal OCX1100 offers the "best of both worlds" -- lower costs and reliability.

Juniper has partnered with original device manufacturer Alpha Networks to produce the OCX1100's hardware. Juniper has submitted the switch to the Open Compute Project for review, and the company expects the project to approve the design by the time the OCX1100 is commercially available in the first quarter of 2015.

Although Juniper has disaggregated the hardware and software on the OCX1100, network engineers will face restrictions on what they can do with the Junos software license they acquire with the switch. Juniper will not allow customers to install Junos on third-party white box hardware.

"We haven't gone there yet," Marcellin said. "That's certainly something we have taken a look at. But the right first step was to provide a turnkey solution with Junos running on the hardware directly."

White box switch economics from an OEM

With cloud provider customers telling Juniper that they want white box switch economics, the vendor has tapped into the white box switch supply chain, said Brad Casemore, research director at IDC. "By tapping the ODM supply chain [Juniper] is able to get a discount," he said.

The company didn't disclose the price of the OCX1100, but Marcellin said that cloud providers that buy the switch in bulk (hundreds or thousands of units) will get a price that is a slight premium over other white box systems. Juniper will justify that premium with its 24-by-7 hardware and software support. If customers install third-party software on the OCX1100, Juniper will continue to support the hardware.

"In essence, this approach takes some of the advantages of traditional integrated/aggregated switching (support, commercial software, etc.) and combines it with benefits of white box (reduced vendor lock-in, much lower Capex)," said Andrew Lerner, research director at Gartner.

White box switch economics is about more than hardware costs, however. Many data center operators push for the disaggregation of hardware and software to avoid lock-in with a single vendor, Casemore said. Technically, the OCX1100 meets that requirement. Engineers can boot up third-party operating systems. But economically, few engineers will be quick to replace Junos on the switch since they've paid for the software license.

"Juniper doesn't want the customer to run other operating systems on the switch," Casemore said. "They are confident that customers will be happy with the way Juniper is packaging it."

But if needs change down the road, where a networking team identifies an operating system that is ideal for a particular application, it will have the option to replace Junos on the OCX1100, Casemore said.

The operational benefits of the bare-metal OCX1100

The version of Junos shipping on the switch is integrated with Chef and Puppet, two DevOps tools that cloud providers use to streamline data center operations.

"If you are running your server environment using [Puppet and Chef], you can leverage those tools to deploy the OCX1100," Marcellin said. "For others who want to get in and do their own programming on the box, we support Python scripting."

Mainstream vendors embrace bare-metal

Juniper is the second mainstream OEM switch vendor to respond to the white box switching phenomenon by embracing bare-metal switching. Dell supports third-party operating systems from Cumulus Networks and Big Switch Networks on its data center switches. Juniper, on the other hand, is going the more traditional white box route, albeit with its commercial software running on top.

"We [Gartner] are referring to this as branded white box switching," Lerner said. "This will appeal to highly sophisticated buyers like cloud providers and service providers initially, but we anticipate mainstream interest to pick up in the coming years."

Cisco recently joined the Open Compute Project, IDC's Casemore added. That move could signal that Cisco is preparing to follow in Dell and Juniper's footsteps, he said.

"We're going to see a few variations on this theme, and the OEM vendors need to respond to this, especially those who are exposed to high-end hyper-scale data center customers and who are trying to prevent incursions from white box systems," Casemore said. Telecoms are considering white box in network functions virtualization environments and high-end financial services companies are looking at the platforms, too, he added.

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