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Open Networking, White Box, Bare metal Switches What are the Risks?
September 19, 2016 | By Reza Toghraee @ ArpaWare
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We are pleased to share with you all an interesting article contributed by Reza Toghraee. 


Reza Toghraee

Technical Manager (CCIE, Cloud, SDN, Netwrok, Security Expert) at ArpaWare


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You may come across the word of Bare metal or White box network switches. You may ignoring it, thinking that it's a cheap IT stuff and no one is interested in. 


I don't want to argue here if bare metal switch is good bad, but I would like to see what are the risks associated with deploying bare metal switches. (White box Switch = Bare Metal Switch).


You can buy a baremetal switch from a re-seller or an online shop. buying bare metal is much simpler than buying stuff from big vendors where they question you 1000 things to find-out where they can upsell. Normally resellers also provide you with NOS (Network Operating System) from different vendors such as Cumulus, IPinFusion, Pica8 or BigSwitch.


After installing your NOS on the whitebox switch, you have a complete switch up and running which can do Layer 2, Layer 3 and OpenFlow functions depending on your NOS features.


This switch will not disturb your other network components, it will run and forward traffic, and you will leave it in the rack and forget about it.


When I talk to people about the Risks of Deploying Bare Metal switches, normally they tell me these :


1. How do I get support?    


You will get support from your NOS (network OS) provider. Similar to other vendors where you log a ticket, via email or phone call. Also you have access to your NOS vendor website to download new updates and patches, and in some NOS, the switch gets the updates automatically without you noticing. Your hardware is supported by warranty and in case of a failure you can return it to the hardware vendor and get a new one.


2. Where do I buy Optics and SFPs?  


You can buy from all standard SFP vendors like Finisar, Smart Optics, etc . Normally they are One Fifth of the price you were paying for OEM Optics of Networking vendors.  


3. How reliable is the switch hardware? why it is white box?


The switch hardware is manufactured by the same factory who produces the switches for big networking vendors. The big networking vendors don't have their own factory, they outsource it to Asian OEM factories. In fact the hardware design of bare metal switches is much simpler then others as they use a robust modular cpu card instead of embedding the cpu on the main switch ASIC board. 


4. How do I manage the switch? How is its CLI?


For sure you have tried different switches and experienced their OS. IOS, JunOS, FOS, Comware, etc. Are they really different ? NO. Similarly the Network Operating System which you load on bare metal switch has similar CLI, commands and concepts. If you are a Linux house and enjoy Linux shell, you will love Cumulus NOS as it is a pure Linux distribution NOS.


5. What if I hated it?


If you hated it, you can change its Operating system. (If you hate Windows 8, you will install Windows 10, or Ubuntu Linux, you wont hate your laptop). If you really hated it, still that box is a switch and will forward traffic as long as you give AC power.


6. Where can I position the white box switches?  


In Campus (Edge or Aggregaton) or Data center or Service Provider.


7. What is the catch with bare metal switches?  


You have to study the features of different NOS and match it with your requirements. Don't buy the NOS blindly. 


8. Why do I need a 40G or 100G Switch?


Have a look at Amazon, search for Network adapters. you will find many 40G, 100G NIC cards below £500 and £1000 respectively. High density servers are demanding more bandwidth.


9. Is this really commercialized? Who have adopted it?


Yes. For sure you are not the only one. There are many use cases mostly in places where many switches are required such as datacenter, Internet Exchange, Financials, ISPs, Fiber To Home, etc.



In fact many service providers who deployed bare metal switches doesn't make it public to stay competitive and not let other competitors to know there are low cost way to have a robust network.


Conclusion : Don't be afraid of trying the bare metal network switches. You won't lose anything. 





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