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Pica8 Adds Muscle to ABC – 'Anybody But Cisco'

Mitch Wagner

Pica8 Inc. has introduced a new white box switch designed to counter fears of limited configuration choice and bolster its ABC -- "Anybody But Cisco" -- strategy.

Adding to its range of switches developed for software-defined networking (SDN) deployments, the P-3297 is purpose-built for scaling OpenFlow environments, running Broadcom ASICs scaling to 8,000 flows, with a US list price of $4,690.

Hardware is provided by original device manufacturers (ODMs) Foxconn and Alpha Networks, along with another manufacturer that doesn't want to be named. "It doesn't want to be known as a white-box manufacturer just yet," Pica8 VP marketing Steve Garrison said in a phone interview.

Garrison said, "We're trying to reduce the fear that there's not enough choice out there." (For more on Pica8's attempts to make SDN easier, see Can Starter Kits Jumpstart SDN?)

The ODM model gives customers the same breadth of configuration choices they get when ordering desktop PCs from Dell, he said. Pica8 wants to provide more scalable networking hardware, just like with PCs.

The new switch means Pica8 now offers three 48x1GbE models, four options for 10GbE, and plans for 40G platforms and Trident 2 VXLAN support.

The breadth of Pica8's offerings is its biggest strength, says analyst Zeus Kerravala of ZK Research. "As the expression goes, when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail and that's the way most of the startups in the SDN space approach the market," he said in an email. "However, Pica8 has multiple hardware platforms as well as pure software model so organizations can choose the best combination of switches and software to build a conventional network, software-defined network or hybrid environment."

Pica8's main competition is the installed base that's reluctant to switch to a white box model, Garrison said. "My competition is the customer unwilling to try a new vendor, because they have many things on their plate." Other vendors with a white-box strategy include Pluribus, Big Switch Networks , and Cumulus. (See Murray Leads Big Switch Into Bare Metal Battle, Big Switch CEO: We're Not for Sale, and SDN: A Particular Set of Skills Much in Demand.)

Kerravala agrees: "The big competitor for the entire industry is the status quo. Customers need to recognize that it's time to evolve the datacenter network to meet the demands of today's IT challenge."

Pica8's big weakness is credibility, Kerravala added. Customers may be hesitant to buy from a company that might get acquired or experience some other event that would interrupt service. Pica8 has a strong customer base and should promote its existing customers to mitigate the perceived risks, he believes.

"There is a group out there that I call ABCs -- anybody but Cisco," ACG Research analyst Ray Mota said. The group includes Pica8. "What they're smart in is that they realize that just breaking the control plane from the data plane is not enough," he said. Pica8 uses CloudStack and OpenStack to manage and orchestrate the network more effectively.

"Right now the weakness would be key partnerships," Mota said. "Having partnerships with integrators that can put all the pieces together is important for Pica8 to do. Another part is scaling on support. They need to accelerate their channel management program so that when they go to these enterprise customers they have a good solid base of people who support it, install it, and allow it to scale."

— Mitch Wagner, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profileFollow me on Facebook, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading. Got a tip about SDN or NFV? Send it to mwagner@lightreading.com.

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User Rank: Light Sabre
2/24/2014 | 3:40:30 PM
Re: Dominant
I agree that partnerships will be key to development. That is why I think this strategy of 'Anybody But Cisco' will work. Especially in the case of SDN. Will anyone be able to do it alone? Maybe Cisco...
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/18/2014 | 7:42:39 PM
Re: Dominant
I agree, typically if you are going against a heavily entrenched incumbent, you'll need to do at least a couple of things right.  Something better than what the current market leaders offers and a sustainable (and growing) customer base.  If not, things are going to be rough, even if you have a superior product.

With SDN, partnerships will be key to development and acceptance, both on the development of the technology as well as the trial customer base.
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/18/2014 | 1:23:40 PM
Cisco is such a huge force in networking, but I can see how being the antithesis for that company could offer something different for providers. 

What Pica8 really needs to do is strategically partner with some service providers - those organzations are the ones who bring the gear into certain environments. I think they know this - but it is easier said than done. 
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