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White box networking explained
White box networking involves the use of hardware – like switches and routers – that are built with commodity parts and can run any software. These solutions are highly customizable, enabling organizations to mix and match parts from different suppliers to get exactly the features they need, like port configurations, storage capacity, and computational power. In addition, white box devices can run operating systems and software that’s been custom-made or heavily modified, allowing even greater flexibility.
The benefits of white box networking
→ Cost savings: Network Operating Systems (NOS) are often the most expensive component of a networking solution, involving recurring licensing fees, support contracts, and periodic update costs. Plus, the vendor may decide to overhaul or replace their software platform, requiring expensive network hardware replacements and licensing upsells to maintain support. White box networking decouples the hardware and software, giving organizations complete control over their NOS and allowing the use of open source or in-house operating systems. By eliminating their reliance on commercial NOS, companies can reduce both their upfront software costs and their recurring licensing fees.
→ Hardware and software freedom: Even if an off-the-shelf networking solution comes with the necessary features and functionality right now, that’s no guarantee that the feature roadmap will always align with an enterprise’s goals and future growth. A white box solution can be changed at any time by installing new software or replacing hardware components, so it can grow and evolve with an organization. This also means that companies can take advantage of new and emerging technologies like SD-WAN or AIOps as quickly as they want without needing to completely replace the underlying infrastructure – they can simply add the required hardware and software to their existing white box solutions.
→ Easy management and interoperability: The biggest benefit of white box networking is that it can be managed by any platform and integrated with any third-party solutions. This makes it easier for an organization to create a fully unified environment with centralized orchestration, end-to-end network automation, and complete visibility. Network teams get holistic control over the entire white box infrastructure from a single pane of glass, using their preferred automation scripts and orchestration tools, which ensures greater performance, reliability, and efficiency.
The problem with white box networking
Though white box networking has many advantages in theory, a lot of companies find it hard to achieve these benefits in practice. For one thing, many white box vendors focus simply on the hardware and don’t provide a default NOS. That means organizations need to spend additional time purchasing, customizing, or writing their own NOS as well as deploying that NOS to all new white box devices.
In addition, white box hardware is often sold in bulk and can become prohibitively expensive if bought in smaller quantities. An organization might end up buying a lot of extra parts they don’t need just to avoid outrageous shipping fees, and then they’re left with the hassle of storing or reselling that hardware.
White box networking also requires a lot of extra work to configure, deploy, and manage compared to a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solution. For many companies, the complexity of enterprise networks and the tech talent shortage make white box networking too much of a headache. Plus, white box manufacturers typically don’t provide ongoing support in the form of NOS updates and security patches, which means the enterprise must take on this responsibility themselves.
Plus, white box devices can also increase the security attack surface of the enterprise network. A poorly configured and unpatched NOS is a tempting target for cybercriminals, who can use a compromised white box device to access sensitive network resources.
The solution: White box networking with ZPE Systems
To use white box networking effectively while avoiding these challenges, you need a complete solution, not just disparate parts to assemble on your own. That solution should combine the open ecosystem approach of white box hardware, the centralized management and security patch advantages of point solutions, and pre-validated applications that don’t require a professional coder to deploy.
For example, the Nodegrid platform from ZPE Systems turns white box networking into a complete enterprise solution. Nodegrid devices are highly customizable, inexpensive, and arrive fully assembled. These devices come pre-installed with the Nodegrid OS, which is built on an x86-64 bit Linux kernel to ensure easy setup and interoperability. ZPE Systems can even manage Nodegrid OS updates and security patches for you, helping to reduce your attack surface and close the tech talent gap. Plus, you can directly host or integrate your choice of networking applications (including Docker containers and SASE solutions) for greater functionality, security, and ease of use.
The Nodegrid solution addresses every major challenge of white box networking so you get complete vendor freedom and simplified management in a single, affordable platform.