White boxes are not something new to us. Since they promise a high level of freedom for networking at a low cost, they have been gaining more and more popularity among customers in recent years. As a piece of hardware, white box switches can be purchased separately from the software. According to the relevant statistic, this decoupling can save up to 52 percent over the traditional vertically-integrated network switch, which often comes at a premium price for the software and fancy logo. When picking up a white box switch, customers can purchase different components from different suppliers. Next, I will show the current situation for the suppliers in the ecological chain of white box switches.
Vendors for White Box Switches Three Major Components
With little switch silicon suppliers on global market, silicon suppliers that can be selected by white box manufacturers are even lesser because the compatibility must be taken into consideration. Across the world, the main silicon supplier is Broadcom with the newly emerged Cavium being flashed occasionally in the white box market. In China, the largest player in this area is Centec.
Hardware suppliers are the most important part in the ecological chain of white box switches. They may seem insignificant but the whole cost in this ecological chain hinges entirely on them. Large companies in the Over the Top (OTT) Market may be not interested in software developed by others, so they tend to work on their own software. However, they will never make a hardware by themselves. So, it is impossible for white box manufacturers to cut the price down without the cooperation of hardware suppliers. At present, the main suppliers in this area is Quanta and Accton in Taiwan, China as well as Celestica in Canada. And in China’s mainland, similar enterprises are also on the rise. All these suppliers have their own factories with the ability to manufacture or design the hardware for white box switch. All of them are collectively known as ODMs. Besides, some suppliers may don’t own a factory but they are equipped with strong ability to design the hardware, they can also provide hardware to customers through their cooperated factories.
The most exciting changes often fall on the software. There has to be software sitting on the box that makes it possible to program the silicon in the box to do something. That’s the job of the network operating system (NOS). The main commercial software suppliers are mainly distributed at abroad, such as Cumulus, BigSwitch (mainly for SDN), Pica8, Snaproute (with both open-source and commercial version). In China, Centec has its own Centec Network OS (CNOS) as well. In addition to the commercial software, there are also some open source programs on the market such as the OpenSwitch launched by HP, Sonic by Microsoft and OPX by SnapRoute. However, these programs are not mature enough. By comparison, OPX may be a better choice. In China, some large companies have been developing their own white boxes on the basis of OPX.
Way out for Different Suppliers
With the advantages to take costs and quality in control, these ODMs can make hardware for white boxes in a mass production. Whereas, inadequate capacity for software design and technical support is their disadvantage. Besides, they don’t conduct production unless they get an order, which often leads to a long delivery time. For these hardware OEMs, it is difficult for them to do business with those small-medium sized normal companies. The best way out for them is to make deal with the large OTT enterprises for those customers often come with a large demand and some of them would even pay for part of the deposit in advance. In addition, ODMs are not required to provide software support for those OTT customers. All they need to do is to ensure the quality and control the cost, which can just make up for their limitations and maximize their advantages. Another customer group for ODMs is white box software suppliers. But due to the limited demand and costs, this kind of model has not been developed very well.
At present, the most popular software suppliers are Cumulus, Pica8, and SnapRoute. All these companies have their own features and market share. But for most software suppliers, they have been during a hard developing period. The main reason for this is that, for most of the large customers, they tend to have their self-developed operating systems. And as for the small customers, the price advantage for integrating software and hardware is not obvious. So the main customers are mainly distributed at abroad, because their price advantage is more prominent compared with Cisco. The best model for these software players is to focus on other medium or large-scale customers besides those OTT customers. More importantly, they need to persuade hardware ODMs to give them a better price so that they can be combined together to explore the market. For hardware OEMs and software suppliers, cooperation will bring benefits both of them while confrontation can only hurt each other.
Brite-Box switches is another choice for white box switches. They are supported by brand companies like Dell, HP and Juniper. These companies have a strong motivation to gain market share of switches against big brands like Cisco. With their own software and hardware provided by ODMs, they can offer white box switches to customers at a relatively low cost. Although with the advantage of massive channels that allow much more geographic availability and customer care than other white box switch suppliers, these Brite-Box switch suppliers have the embarrassment to compete with their own products line and they can’t meet the requirement of customized service very well.
There exist multiple players in the ecological chain of white box switches, each of them has its own advantages and disadvantages. To find the best way to survive, they have to develop the strong points and avoid the weak points. For example, as it has been mentioned before, hardware ODMs and software suppliers must work and support with each other to cut the cost down, thus creating a broader marker for both of them.