'White Boxes' Help Cut Cost of Building Giant Enterprise Data Centers
The Cloudline servers are the first fruits of a partnership with Foxconn that were announced last year and feature Foxconn-built servers that are based on the OCP's Open Rack and Open Cloud Server specifications—which set common industry interfaces for hardware and firmware while supporting open management tools. The Cloudline servers are optimized for HP's Helion OpenStack, the company's distribution of the open-source cloud orchestration platform. HP's Cloudline announcement came a month after the company announced new open switches built in partnership with ODM Accton Technologies that can run HP's own Comware 7 OS or the Cumulus Linux operating system. The move to these new offerings made good business sense, according to HP CEO Meg Whitman. "We have benefited by having a hyperscale offering through our joint venture with Foxconn in the server business, which led to the thesis we should have a white-box strategy for our networking business, because there are a lot of people for whom that is the solution that they prefer," Whitman said in February during a conference call to talk about quarterly financial numbers. "And better for us to offer it and surround with other HP product and services than walk away from that market segment entirely. We are very clear that we only play in businesses in which we can grow profitably. We have no interest in losing money in any business, and we believe…that we announced that we will make money there," Whitman said.The open networking offerings are part of a trend that Gartner analysts are calling "brite boxes," which come in between traditional networking gear and white boxes. White boxes can work for hyperscale businesses like Google, which can see significant capital cost reductions of five to seven times, according to Gartner analyst Andrew Lerner. However, for mainstream businesses and service providers, they present challenges in management, integration and support. Brite boxes offer many of the benefits of white boxes with the advantages of having a top-tier OEM behind them, such as more support and services along with less costly systems. They might not be as cheap as white boxes, but they don't cost as much as proprietary switches. "With Dell, you are sure of getting a lower price than a Cisco box," Arpit Joshipura, vice president of product marketing and strategy for Dell Networking, told eWEEK, noting that a Dell Open Networking switch—which costs about 30 percent less than a Cisco switch—also comes with the vendor's services and support. "So we can charge a premium to white boxes, but not a huge premium." While hyperscale players are driving the demand for white box and open switches, that will change as more enterprises look for greater flexibility and lower costs in their networks, according to John Gromala, senior director of hyperscale product management at HP. Hyperscale deployments are "the tip of the spear," Gromala told eWEEK. "Over time, that is expected to broaden."
HP's efforts in open networking follow what Dell and Juniper Networks already had done. Dell introduced its Open Networking effort in early 2014, and offers switches that can run operating systems and software from a range of vendors, including Big Switch, Cumulus and Midokura, among others. Juniper's cloud-optimized OCX1100 switch is based on OCP designs and runs Juniper's Junos OS operating system.