Someone asked me for reasons why they should buy whitebox switches. I came up with nine.
- 3-year ROI. A low-cost product can get ROI in less time and be replaced sooner. Faster hardware rotation equals more innovation/feature adoption. (Big shout out to Cisco Nexus 7000 customers on decade-long ownership cycles.)
- Software bugs. Vendors take months to locate, accept, and fix bugs, which has enormous impact on your business (see here). With OCP-compliant whiteboxes, you can switch software and keep your business alive, or work around slow vendor support.
- Self-sparing. For some/most use cases, self-sparing is better than relying on vendor inventory. When products are cheap, you can hold inventory in your data center and bring MTTR down to hours instead of days.
- Pre-inventory. Low-cost switches held as internal stock reduce lead time for new project provisioning. Don’t wait for approval/PO/delivery, just pull from stock. Also, stocks of SFP modules for whitebox switches can be held when they cost 1/10th of vendor units.
- Vendor management. Using at least some whitebox can coax better discounts or engagement from incumbent vendors. Most companies will have a core/pod architecture and use a mix of branded/whitebrand/whitebox. Encourage your vendors to be better aligned to your needs by not buying their products.
- Supplier risk. Using different whitebox vendors can reduce your risk from hardware bugs. A single switch model reduces operational costs, but also places an enormous bet on a single supplier product.
- SDN. Move your operational focus from a vendor-specific CLI to an SDN solution. If you’re concerned about having multiple vendors to operate, then buy a SDN solution that is device independent. Products such Anuta and Apstra remove the hassle.
- Core/pod architecture. You can build a new network using modern design principles like ECMP without affecting your existing networks. Don’t have one network, have many “network pods.”
- Low port utilization. If switches are cheap enough, you don’t have to use every port to get an ROI. This avoids stretching cables between racks or rows, or paying for expensive SFPs to long-haul a couple of servers.
You’ll note that I didn’t explicitly cite the cheaper price of whitebox switches as a reason to buy them. That’s because companies don’t really care about cutting costs. Seriously. Companies are more than willing to spend big if they believe value is returned in some way. Companies waste time negotiating prices with vendors just to pretend they haven’t overpaid for a particular brand, or over-provisioned the solution ‘just in case.’
You might also notice that I have explained how cheaper products can change the way you design and operate a network. And that’s how you should present this to management.