Cisco Systems and Juniper Networks executives say that Facebook's open-source switching strategy is loaded with hidden costs and only attractive to a small group of users.
Facebook Wednesday unveiled a Linux-based, top-of-rack networking switch called Wedge that it plans to make available as an open-source hardware design through its Open Compute Project. It's a move that could pose a challenge to network hardware manufacturers, allowing organizations to build their own switches using off-the-shelf or white-box hardware rather than buying proprietary switches from vendors such as Cisco or Juniper.
Companies embracing the white-box model, which includes tech giants Facebook, Google and Amazon, argue that it is less expensive and more flexible than using proprietary gear. Facebook, for its part, said this week it has saved $1.2 billion in infrastructure costs by developing open-source designs for servers.
But according to Cisco, the white-box and open-source switching strategy Facebook put forth this week only makes sense for a very limited number of organizations -- namely, those like Facebook that have "mega-scale data centers" and a wealth of IT resources to support them.
"The white-box view in the enterprise and commercial [markets] -- it doesn't work quite as well," said Ish Limkakeng, vice president at Insieme, Cisco's software-defined networking spin-in. "When you have a large [mega-scale data center] or are building a huge-scale data center, you are willing to make the investment in looking at white-box, and you have a lot of technical staff where you can do this evaluation and take on the idea of doing the systems integration yourself. When you look at that from a typical enterprise standpoint, they don’t want to do that."
Limkakeng said he doesn't expect widespread adoption of white-box or open-source switches in the commercial market because the average enterprise doesn't have the same IT footprint of a company such as Facebook or Google.
The reason white-box environments demand such heavy IT investment, he said, is because they require organizations, in most cases, to acquire the switching hardware and integrate the network operating system themselves. This, coupled with ongoing support, can lead to hefty "hidden costs," he said.
"What most people focus on when they talk about cost, in general, and white boxes -- they are looking at maybe the acquisition cost or just one aspect of the cost," Limkakeng said. "But, at the end of the day, it's both the capital costs, as well as the operational expense, and the opex ends up being a dominant factor over time."
Juniper focused on the cost aspect of the white-box model as well.
"Facebook is an anomaly because 99.9 percent of the companies in the world don’t have an army of software or IT developers that they can try to ramp up on the networking aspects," said Mike Marcellin, senior vice president of strategy and marketing at Juniper. "You really do have to look at the total cost of the device itself, as well as what other support requirements are there."
According to a research note this week from JP Morgan and cited by Seeking Alpha, the white-box switching market grew 18.6 percent year-over-year in the first quarter of 2014. Solution providers specializing in network infrastructure, however, aren't seeing that movement take hold in the enterprise businesses they serve.
"While Open Compute has a big play with massively scaled environments, I don’t really see it being considered by our typical customers," said Jeff Drury, director of systems engineering at Mountain States Networking, a Salt Lake City-based Cisco partner.
Facebook did not respond to CRN's request for comment.
Both Juniper and Cisco stressed that they are addressing the needs of large-scale service and cloud providers, which is to make their networks more programmable, scalable and open, in their own ways.
Juniper, for its part, is targeting the space with its MetaFabric SDN solution and with its emerging vision for what it calls "high-IQ networks."
Cisco, meanwhile, is going to market with its Application Centric Infrastructure SDN architecture, based on its new line of Nexus 9000 switches, which the company said leverages a mix of both custom and merchant silicon.
PUBLISHED JUNE 20, 2014