A month ago, Bank of America’s (BofA) Global Research team issued a Primer paper on white box routing. They concluded that it was a disruptive technology that can radically transform the networking space in the same way that VMware disrupted the server market and accelerated the transformation of traditional blade servers to generic white box servers in the data center.
BofA analysts suggest that disaggregated routers running over white boxes based on merchant silicon are the next chapter for the routing market, offering a cost-effective high-scale solution that makes the traditional router chassis a thing of the past.
The Network is Taking a Center Stage
The report comes at a time where high-scale routing solutions used by service and cloud providers are taking a center stage. Networks are mentioned in the press daily getting praised for their exceptional performance supporting 30% increase in traffic due to Coronavirus impact on traffic patterns. And we are also seeing a wave of acquisitions across this space. A few examples are Cloudgenix acquisition by Palo Alto Networks, Microsoft’s acquisition of Affirmed Networks, and Nvidia’s move to acquire Cumulus Networks, all of which involve software-based, cloud-native and disaggregated networking solutions.
While the report mentioned initiatives by Cisco, Juniper, Nokia and few startups in the space, it focused in on DriveNets, detailing its technology solution for the innovation and disruption it brings to the market. Specifically, the report noted DriveNets Network Cloud’s ability to stack a number of white boxes into a cluster that acts as a single router, eliminating the need for multiple router sizes and modules.
With the report only available to BofA research subscribers, I wanted to share with you a quick summary and highlight important insights.
What’s Wrong with Routing?
The report states three forces that are driving router demand and pricing down, which require routing the way we know it to change:
- Router capacity and port sizes are increasing faster than demand, driving price per bit down.
- Customers are replacing expensive MPLS services with much cheaper SD-WAN connections – substantially lowering service revenue.
- New hypercloud customers – cloud providers are introducing different network architecture needs which require simpler routers and larger scale.
The Next Chapter in Routing: Disaggregated White Box Routers
The report goes into length comparing traditional routers to new white box disaggregated routing models. It reaches the conclusion that disaggregated white box routers answer the requirements listed above:
- Scale capacity more cost effectively for service providers
- Lower the cost of the physical ports and the software
- Optimize the use of resources through virtualization and standardization of hardware
- Avoid vendor lock.
It also suggests that the disaggregated model is better for hypercloud vendors since it aligns with their data center model of disaggregation and the separation of hardware and software.
To keep it simple, here’s a quick summary of the differences:
|Traditional Routers||White Box Routers|
|Monolithic, chassis based||Based on low-cost white boxes|
|Different chassis models and sizes are used in different locations in the network||Same white box building blocks are used for any size router in any location|
|Vendor lock – Software and hardware from the same vendor Very difficult to mix and match vendors||Mix and match vendors – Hardware and software are sold independently from different/multiple vendors (as long as they are compatible)|
|Separate infrastructure for different networks and services, with minimal resource sharing Charges a hefty premium||Cloud-native software enables different networks and services to run in separate containers over a shared physical infrastructure, maximizing resource utilization with virtualization|
|Charges a hefty premium||Low-cost standard networking white boxes from a choice of vendors, and a cost-effective software licensing model|
|NFV, which was designed to scale services, is complex and costly||Cloud-native software and containers are designed to scale services|
Why DriveNets is Unique in the Networking Space
BofA analysts highlighted DriveNets as one of the leading startups in white box-based routing, ready to change the service and cloud providers networking space in the same way hyperclouds changed storage and compute with cloud infrastructures.
Some of the key highlights are:
- Disaggregated hardware and software with only two white box building blocks – Network Cloud Packet Forwarder (NCP) and Network Cloud Fabric (NCF), simplifying the operational model
- Core, aggregation and edge solutions – unlike other companies in this space who started from a single white box solution, DriveNets started from with high-end core, aggregation and edge solutions and can scale from 4Tb/S to 768Tb/s
- Distributed Disaggregated Chassis (DDC) model proposed to the Open Compute Project (OCP) by AT&T – DriveNets is unique in that its Network Cloud solution is based on only two hardware white box building blocks that can support a single white box router of 4Tb/s or scale to cluster of white boxes (up to 192 of them) acting as a single router entity of 768Tb/s
- 50% cost savings over traditional core and edge router solutions – according to ACG Research
- Full lifecycle management with DriveNets Orchestration platform (DNOR) – automated orchestration and Zero-Touch provisioning (ZTP)
- Already in Tier-1 service providers
Who Else is Moving to White Box routing?
The report goes on to list several other startups that offer white box routing solutions, stating that they are mostly lower-end single-box based. It also describes how incumbent vendors such as Cisco, Juniper, and others are slowly embracing the concept of disaggregation and selling various software versions that are separate from their hardware.
The Next Step in the Routing Market
According to BofA, there are two types of RFPs in the market – new RFPs for disaggregated solutions and RFPs for routing solutions in general. So far 96% of the routing market is controlled by four incumbent routing vendors. It will be interesting to see how the adoption of disaggregated routing will affect the market and whether the impact on networking brought on by the Coronavirus will help accelerate it.