Technology basics

What is White Box Switching?

A white box switch is built on a low-cost, bare metal device that runs on merchant silicon.

A white box switch or white label switch is a network switch that is assembled from standardized commodity parts. White box switches run on off-the-shelf chips. White box switches are really just that – ‘blank’ standard hardware. The term white box is used to describe products that do not carry a brand name.

White Box Switching benefits

Although white box switches do not have as many features as proprietary switches, they tend to be less expensive and just as fast. This can make them an attractive alternative to brand name switches. White box switches have been around for years, but adoption has been limited to niche companies that have large engineering departments. The rise of software-defined networking (SDN) has brought them into the public eye as a lower-cost alternative to traditional network hardware.

A white box switch may come pre-loaded with open-source software or it may be sold as a bare metal device. A common operating system for white box switches is Linux-based, because of the many open and free Linux tools available that help administrators customize the devices to their organization's specific business and networking needs. A well-known Software-Defined operating system for White Boxes is ONOS. 

ONOS SDN controller platform

ONOS is the SDN controller platform supporting the transition from legacy “brown field” networks to SDN “green field” networks. This enables many new capabilities, and disruptive deployment and operational cost points for network operators. It is the L2/L3 leaf-spine fabric on bare-metal switching hardware that is built with SDN principles and open source software. This is a result of a productive collaboration between the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), a non-profit organization dedicated to accelerating the adoption of open SDN, and Open Networking Lab (ON.Lab), a nonprofit building open source communities to realize the full potential of SDN and network functions virtualization (NFV).

White Box Switching in SDN Software-defined networks

White box switches are often used in software-defined networking (SDN), an approach to networking in which control is decoupled from the physical infrastructure. In an SDN environment, the apps running on top of the SDN Controller are what provide the higher level orchestration and programmability of the network.

White box switches can be programmed to use the OpenFlow protocol or another southbound API to create routing tables and route connections. Because they are so flexible, white box switches can also be used to support a wide range of open-source management tools, including OpenStack, Puppet, Ansible, and Chef.

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