Is white box networking still a thing? The idea is grand, replace your [insert your major vendor here] network hardware with a white box switch or router.
The idea has been around for over 6 years now. But I haven’t seen the penetration of white box networking or at least in any of the environments I’ve been in.
But maybe the time has come for Service Providers (SPs) to embrace the concept.
Service Providers (SPs) have been facing increased costs, management, and scaling challenges. Especially now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, where so many people are working from home.
How does an SP work against the clock to easily scale their network?
That’s where DriveNets wants to shine. Founded in 2015 and now with more than 200 employees, DriveNets is set out to revolutionize the service provider networks by disaggregating the network infrastructure from the core to the edge.
We’ve seen disaggregation in the same way in cloud infrastructure, how about the same approach for service providers?
DriveNets’ solution disaggregates the router architecture with a single white box router capable of scaling to a cluster of up to 768 Gbps while logically acting as a single router.
The challenges DriveNets face
Many network engineers are familiar with the traditional network model. An SP will have a large network with a large install base. With that comes the operational complexity of managing that hardware including software updates, configuration changes, and troubleshooting.
The other aspect to this is cost. With features going into a subscription model, hardware and software licensing costs burn a hole in the corporate wallet. This could leave many SPs managing a network of aging hardware.
Heavy Reading conducted a survey and found 46% of Service Providers expect to make a radical change to the IP network architecture in the next three years. The primary reasons are to lower capital expenditures and easily scale to accommodate traffic.
The DriveNets solution is to combat this problem with their Network Cloud. A software-based solution capable of scaling with white boxes and cloud-native software.
DriveNets driving for change
It’s not as simple as disaggregating software and hardware. There must be a way to operate the network simply. By introducing network virtualization, Docker containers, and micro-services this adds a steep learning curve for the traditional network engineer. One that is coming, by the way.
Today we deploy with networks with dedicated hardware with a specific purpose.
The solution is to disaggregate. First at the basic level by disaggregating hardware and software. The hardware is provided by an ODM. Software is packaged by a company such as DriveNets. But they do not only provide the network operating system, they also include a centralized management platform -- critical to operating a disaggregated network.
Next, the control-plane and data-plane is disaggregated. Thus, data plane can be designed to scale by adding white box networking hardware as needed to accommodate for traffic.
The control plane can run on X86 servers and scales depending on the amount of resources needed. We utilize the mature virtualization and scaling server architectures.
A new operational model, disaggregated
With a new way of deploying and managing networks, a new disaggregated operational model is used.
The gain in operational efficiency is done through an orchestration system and zero-touch provisioning. Fully automated and integrated by a cloud-native system.
This leads to a lower costs, increased operational efficiencies and hopefully new revenue streams.
It’s a mindset shift, from traditional networking to a disaggregated network. IT staff will need to be trained to understand the automated deployment method, different CLI, troubleshooting, and more. But the underlying network fundamentals are still there.
Under the hood, a different operating system
Just like any other network vendor there is a network operating system. Only this is built for scale in mind. DriveNets wants to scale out routing to hundreds of terabits with the same operating system.
But instead of managing every network device separately, we think in terms of every white box router as one big chassis, a cluster. This is designed to bring simplicity to operations. It’s a single piece of software meaning you don’t have different software versions based on the chassis size. (I know you feel that pain too.)
Will you have to learn all the new cloud-native architectures such as micro-services, containers, automation, orchestration, etc? Not necessarily. There is a level of abstraction. While the CLI is there along with all the benefits of automation and scale, management can be done through the GUI.
Because DriveNets brings a cloud-native operating system to the network, every element is a collection of resources. Micro-services is very much part of the network. Everything is a Docker container.
And so we have the controller function also running on a white box, with usually a pair for redundancy. It handles the control and management functions of the cluster.
Starts with the Service Provider, what’s next?
Is this the future of networking? DriveNets offers a compelling argument for disaggregation based on the challenges Service Providers are facing today. They have been able to put this in production successfully.
With organizations trying to decrease their expenditures and attempting to untie their hands from a “vendor lock-in”, the DriveNets solution towards a disaggregated model makes sense.
There’s a lot of underutilized resources on the network. By leveraging scale, operational efficiency, and white boxes, a Service Provider can better plan for increased traffic patterns.
A big concern is the support structure for a disaggregated architecture. How are issues handled between hardware and software since they are handled by different companies. How much QA is done between software and hardware vendors. Will they work together as issues arise?
DriveNets is the first line of support, and that’s great, but how is the relationship between vendors?
Time will only tell if the adoption for a disaggregated network architecture yields the benefits.
Do you see the advantage of disaggregating control-plane and data-plane to leverage white boxes in your network? Comment down below.
Disclaimer: I was a delegate for Networking Field Day 22. Gestalt IT invited me, provided transportation between presenting sponsors, and provided food during the event.