What's Next for White Boxes in a Post-Chambers World?

Dan O'Shea
DOS Attack
Dan O'Shea, Analyst, Heavyreading.com
6/26/2015



Very soon, like next month, members of the white box ecosystem will lose their one of their biggest advocates when Cisco chief John Chambers retires. You can hardly blame them for mourning the loss, given Chambers's readiness to admit (in a Light Reading video interview no less) that the white box brigade represents a major competitive threat to Cisco's installed base.

"John Chambers is my friend," Steve Garrison, vice president of marketing at Pica8 told Light Reading, perhaps with full knowledge that he just gave birth to a new bumper sticker. "He has done more good for white boxes in the past year than practically anyone. By just talking about it, he's elevated the visibility of white boxes to the C-Level people."

Chambers told Light Reading founder Steve Saunders earlier this year that Cisco's principal future competition will come from white boxes. Garrison said that market visibility was invaluable, even though there were plenty of people in the deep recesses of service provider organizations that already understood the case for deploying white boxes. (See CEO Chat With John Chambers, Cisco and Think Outside the White Box.)

"There are network people in these companies who have always understood the argument for disaggregation [of network hardware and software], but now we're starting to see more C-Level types wanting to talk to us," he said.

The next challenge for white box vendors and those who support them, like Pica8, is to leverage all of the free advertising provided by Chambers and turn it into something real -- not just trials, but commercial deployments.

At least one way to accomplish that is to keep pushing out new features and functionality, and not just rest their case on the capex savings they can provide. Pica8 has been pretty busy doing just that, this week announcing support for Edge-Core's 48-port Power over Ethernet bare metal switch, which could help carriers improve service provisioning to small businesses while saving opex. (See Pica8 Support PoE White Box Switch.)

As the buzz around white boxes has grown this year, maybe it seemed like a given that they will take over networks sooner rather than later. After all, giving carriers more flexibility and choice in designing and operating their networks while saving them money makes a heck of a lot of sense. "The ability to choose from multiple operating systems will help service providers build what they need, rather than having to accept what vendors push at them," Garrison said. "Disaggregation moves networks to a point-and-click world."

However, logic doesn't always win -- or at least it can sometimes take a long time for seemingly obvious logic to prevail. Meanwhile, many of the big vendors, some of whom even talk a good game about open networking, are only getting bigger, making their case to convince carriers to deploy their gear -- and only their gear -- from end to end. Even Cisco is changing its strategy, or at least emphasizing its ability to sell "outcomes" instead of its own boxes -- but if you buy, you'll get those Cisco boxes, too. (See How Cisco Will Compete Against White Box Switches.)


Want to know more about the white box movement? Check out our dedicated optical content channel right here on Light Reading.


White box firms are making great progress. For example, we heard late last year that Pica8 reportedly earned a trial spot at Verizon, though lately Verizon has been talking more about working closely with its largest vendor partners (Cisco included) as it executes its SDN strategy. (See Verizon Advances SDN Strategy With Bare-Metal Bet and Verizon Builds Key Vendors Into SDN Strategy.)

Garrison recognized that the white box movement might have its best luck in the early going with service providers competing with the big telcos, like regional cloud and hosting providers. Hopefully, there are enough dollars in that market for the white box brigade to build on buzz. The telcos, with their penchant for longer evaluations, could take longer to come around. The white box brigade may still be able to play the "anybody but Cisco" game, but the guy who helped validate their existence by seeming to take them very seriously is about to leave the building. Who will be their next champion?

Dan O'Shea, Managing Editor, Light Reading

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