Opening Up the White Box Network

What happens when the market gets ahead of the marketing? That appears to be the case with our upcoming event focused on white box networks, "White Box Strategies for CSPs", which takes place in Santa Clara, Calif. next month, Tuesday, November 17. At the one-day conference we'll be exploring how white box networks will allow service providers to reduce capex by building interoperable, scalable, virtualized New IP cloud networks using low-cost, commoditized hardware that supports a (separate) layer of open source network software.

Judging by the registration numbers for this event (leaping like a salmon!) there's an abundance of interest in this topic but, compared to technologies like NFV or SDN, there's virtually no hard information available about it on the Internet.

That obviously makes our event timely and important, but it also begs the question: why the information vacuum?

There are two reasons. The first is a classic case (or cases) of innovator's dilemma: If white box networks really take off, most of the incumbent manufacturers of telecom equipment will take a hit on sales of their existing, proprietary, pricey products -- no wonder, then, that they are moving a little sluggishly to embrace the trend.

An exception here is Ericsson, which really has nothing to lose and everything to gain from white box. In this instance, its lack of a strong internal IP portfolio plays to its favor, and it's already leveraging white box opportunity via its HDS 8000 platform, a revolutionary spin on what constitutes telecom hardware, and the current poster child for white box hardware in general.

The second delay factor is the growing confusion over, for want of a better term, "what constitutes Open." Interoperability is one of the fundamental concepts underlying white box networking, and the idea is that by basing the network hardware and software on open specifications, vendors will create a peaceable kingdom where service providers are free to mix and match products and code from whichever company offers them the best price and performance.

However, back in the real world, it's becoming apparent that "open" doesn't equal "interoperable," for a variety of reasons, including vendors injecting proprietary features into open source software stacks; confusion over who is ultimately responsible for open source specifications; and the lack of independent and "open" interoperability testing (something Light Reading itself is looking to help with via our current round of NFV tests).

Our conference in November will attempt to answer all of the big questions (what, when, who, how) around white box networks -- with the help of some obscure little companies like Cisco, Ericsson, Intel, and HP, and white box specialists Pica8 and EZchip.

On the service provider side of things, we also have lined up speakers from Equinix, Orange, SK Telekom and NTT -- who between them are basically writing the book on building white box networks (before a book actually exists!)

Kudos to all of these companies for stepping up and serving the informational needs of the industry by agreeing to support the event.

Our line-up includes one notable absentee: Dell, which at a surface level should be well equipped to take advantage of the white box "whivolution." This is a continuation of a theme for Dell; in terms of high level marketing spin, it's looking to position itself as a telecom disruptor, but to date it has failed to cowboy up and answer questions from Light Reading's service provider audience at any of our events. Until it does so it's hard to work out whether service providers should take its telecom aspirations seriously, even with its acquisition today of EMC and VMware. (See Dell Buys EMC for $67B in Biggest Tech Deal Ever.)

I think we're in the Goldilocks zone for our white box event -- not too early, or too late -- just right. There's no question white box will happen, and next month we will have an opportunity to discuss it with the leading companies in the industry, live, and prior to them getting their marketing messages into alignment. I expect to hear some candid and fascinating insights all the live long day!

P.S. Click here to register if you haven't already!

— Stephen Saunders, Founder and CEO, Light Reading

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