By Jeff Paine, vice president of marketing, Pica8.
There’s a revolution sweeping the world’s biggest data centers: open switching. Look inside the top seven web-scale companies, and you won’t find the big networking incumbents. Instead, you’ll see “white-box” switches (or, in many cases, open “brite-box” switches produced by vendors like Dell EMC) that can run open, Linux-based network operating systems from multiple vendors.
What do these companies know that the rest of the industry doesn’t? That there’s no law dictating you have to use proprietary network devices and management software. And that, by leaving the proprietary world behind, you can simplify your network and radically reduce your costs.
This secret is now spreading to organizations in every industry, including education. Colleges and universities have experimented with open switching in research labs for years, but until recently, it just wasn’t feasible for the larger campus network. Now, the last barriers to open access networks have disappeared. University IT departments are starting to realize that the status quo for campus networks is a choice, not an imperative, and there are compelling alternatives to consider.
Seeding the Open Network Revolution
Most colleges and universities use the same aging, proprietary campus network infrastructure they’ve had in place for years. After all, when these networks were built, the big names in networking (Cisco, Juniper, Extreme) were the only options. Despite massive shifts in the devices and applications that have come to rely on access networks in the intervening years, surprisingly little has changed. To the point that most university IT departments just accept these networks’ inherent disadvantages as the price of doing business. Disadvantages like:
- High costs, especially for proprietary network management software and automation frameworks, which can run to more than half a million dollars annually
- Antiquated three-tier architectures that can’t keep pace with demand for more capacity at the edge and create a sprawling network that’s a nightmare to deploy and manage
- Inefficient high-availability mechanisms like Spanning Tree, which strand half the available switch ports and bandwidth in the network
For several years now, the hyper-scale web companies have used open networks to address all these issues. White-box/brite-box solutions can do the same things as brand-name devices (and use the same underlying hardware) with far more architectural flexibility, at a fraction of the price. Until recently though, there were gaps in these solutions that kept open switching relegated to data center networks (or, on college campuses, to the lab).