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Pica8 wooing campus with white box network switch software

Pica8 is rolling out new white box network switch software aimed at campus and branch-office deployments in a bid to build a new market.

Is white box switching in the campus ready for prime time?

Network operating system (NOS) vendor Pica8 Inc. is casting its eye on campus and branch-office networks with white box network switch software it said will simplify the deployment of disaggregated switches.

The new application, PicaPilot, is for wired infrastructures only and enables users to compress dozens of white box switches into a single logical device and solitary IP address for configuration, provisioning and management.

In lieu of the spanning tree protocol that underpins the three-tier designs common across many enterprise networks, PicaPilot uses multichassis link aggregation -- a method that allows several switches to act as if they were one and provides failover in the event of device malfunctions.

PicaPilot software is separate from Pica8's Linux-based network operating system, PicOS, which is available on dozens of open switch models from Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Dell Technologies, Edgecore, Inventec and Delta Networks.

Enterprise reluctant to embrace open source switching

While open source switching has gained a growing share of the data center and hyperscale market, enterprises have been less likely to adopt the topology, citing concerns about white box network switch designs -- disaggregated NOSes tend to support Layer 3, rather than traditional Layer 2-based frameworks -- and some reluctance to use hardware from lesser-known vendors.

"In the past, I think there was a perception that the hardware wasn't up to it," said Jeff Paine, vice president of networking at Pica8, based in Palo Alto, Calif., regarding enterprise fears about white box deployments. "But that isn't true any longer. Cisco, Arista and Juniper are all building the same switches we are using in the same plants we're using with the same silicon."

Research from Enterprise Strategy Group found more than a third of midmarket and enterprise customers warming to the notion of using white box network switching for their office locations, according to Bob Laliberte, an analyst with the firm, based in Milford, Mass.

The continued adoption of cloud-native applications based on containers and microservices is also fueling interest, he said. "I expect a great deal of focus on the remote office and branch office this year, as the pendulum swings from centralized to distributed [computing]."

PicaPilot, available now, is shipped as preloaded switch software with preconfigured template workflows. It is priced between $160 and $900 per switch, depending upon the model selected. PicOS is also required and is priced separately. The initial release can support up to 40 leaf switches with up to 2,000 ports. The white box network switches can also be used in OpenFlow environments for additional security and management capabilities.

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