Dell EMC Eyes the Edge for Open Networking

The company sees opportunity for its open networking technology beyond the traditional data center and at the edge and remote sites.

Dell open networking

Dell EMC officials are eyeing the enterprise campus and other edge environments as next steps for the company’s now 5-year-old open networking efforts that until this year have focused primarily on central data centers.

In a blog post this week, Tom Burns, senior vice president and general manager of Dell EMC Networking and Solutions business, wrote that the software-defined WAN space and the rollouts of 5G networks by service providers will provide opportunity for the vendor to extend the reach of its open network systems and software.

“The next evolution [of computing] takes the same premise of allowing software to play a greater role and applies it to other places in the network beyond the data center, such as SD-WAN,” Burns wrote.

The move into the SD-WAN arena—among the fastest-growing parts of the larger network virtualization trend that includes software-defined networking (SDN) and network-functions virtualization (NFV)—will come with “major updates to our campus portfolio planned in 2019.” The deployment by service providers of 5G networks in the coming months and years will give them the opportunity to use “multi-purpose resources close to the edge and use software to deploy specific services as the need arises. If that is the chosen approach, we can expect to see another wave of innovation and progress, as hyperscale organizations like service providers often drive most of the initial growth for open technologies.”

The rise of SDN and the trend toward more distributed computing environments have driven the growing demand for more software-defined data center operations and the need for more compute and storage capabilities at the network edge, beyond the walls of traditional data centers. It also has put a spotlight on the need for network virtualization technologies that disaggregate the software from the underlying hardware.

The introduction of SDN and NFV also led to wider adoption of commodity networking hardware that can run third-party software that is not tightly integrated to the switches and other gear. This fueled the growing use by enterprises and hyperscalers of low-cost white-box switches from original design manufacturers (ODMs) like Quanta, Accton and Foxconn, a trend that threatened traditional networking vendors.

Dell responded five years ago with the creation of its Open Networking portfolio that offers organizations Dell-branded hardware powered by merchant silicon that could run networking operating systems and other software from other vendors, including Cumulus Networks, Pluribus Networks and Big Switch Networks. The idea was to give enterprises the option of branded hardware that costs a little more than white boxes—but less than traditional gear—but also comes with Dell’s service and support.

Other vendors, including Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Juniper Networks, have since followed suit. Most recently, Lenovo officials in December announced the OEM was teaming up with Cumulus to offer its own line of disaggregated switches. There is some evidence that the momentum behind white-box makers in the network is slowing. Analysts with the Dell’Oro Group in December said they lost share in the 100 Gigabit Ethernet switch market in 2018 as companies other than the largest cloud providers in the United States are opting for branded equipment.

Over the past few years, Dell EMC has brought open networking to an array of offerings, including the PowerEdge MX platform introduced last year and hyperconverged infrastructure solutions via its SmartFabric Services integrated with VxRail Manager and VMware vSphere, Burns wrote. The next step for open networking is outside the data center.

Dell EMC is no stranger to SD-WAN, which gives enterprise branch offices options beyond multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) that are more suited to a cloud-centric world to move data and applications. IDC analysts are forecasting that the IDC market will grow 40.4 percent a year between 2017 and 2022, when it will hit $4.5 billion. The vendor has a number of appliances optimized for SD-WAN, and VMware, a Dell company, bought SD-WAN startup VeloCloud in 2017.

With SD-WAN, enterprises can leverage software running on x86-based infrastructure or as a virtual machine to enable remote sites to connect and communicate with each other, Burns wrote.

He said that 5G will be a challenge for service providers if they use single-use appliances “in certain un-serviced locations simply to prepare for the possibility that services will be needed there someday.” It will make more sense for them to use multi-purpose equipment out at the edge and “use software to deploy specific services as the need arises.”