Vendors Shouldn’t Underestimate the Importance of Validation in Switch Disaggregation

M. Fratto
M. Fratto

Summary Bullets:

  • Most companies don’t have the people, processes, or desire to do their own in-depth validation of disaggregated switching products.
  • Networking vendors won’t succeed unless they take the lead by validating integration and offering technical support and professional services.

There’s no doubt that customers want integrated IT systems both for internal systems and for delivering services to their end users. While IT will, at times, perform some of the integration work itself, the reality is that enterprises strongly prefer more guaranteed, out-of-the-box integration between systems. DevOps is cool and all, but let’s face it: most enterprise IT shops are not capable of DevOps because they lack the developers to ensure smooth integration. This is why validated integration is so important for enterprises. Granted, validated integration is no guarantee that systems will actually work well together, but it does provide assurance that if they don’t, the vendor or integrator can assist in problem resolution.

In enterprise networking, integration and interoperation have been limited to basic functions, but all are very well-defined functional building blocks, such as supporting Ethernet, IP, routing, and SNMP. Interoperation didn’t occur magically, but through industry consortiums, interoperability tests, plug-fests, and generalized agreement as the technology matured. Seamless interoperation didn’t happen in all cases, but it many cases, it did.

Where interoperation didn’t become widespread, vendors and service providers had to step in with validation testing and/or deployment guidelines. IPsec VPN is a good example; even in 2015, you can’t be guaranteed that two randomly chosen IPsec VPN gateways will interoperate across commonly used configurations, so vendors and service providers such as Amazon Web Services validate gateways or provide interoperation guides. The point is that someone other than the customer has done the work to assure enterprises that yes, interoperation is possible.

As the networking industry moves into disaggregated switching, the need for validated interoperation is just as critical for product success. Disaggregation – separating the network OS from the network hardware – as a general principle aims to do to networking what the WINTEL stack did to desktop and server computing, namely allow users to select hardware and software independently. But, let’s not forget that companies that validated and backed the WINTEL combinations were more successful than those that left the validation up to customers.

Nothing is different with disaggregated networking. If companies want to move forward with disaggregated networking, they will want assurances that products work together. Dell and HPE both have branded ‘white box’ offerings, which include validated designs, technical support for hardware and software, and professional services. Juniper, with its OCX 1100 and disaggregated Junos, will have a tougher time making headway with either branded white boxes or its network OS unless it can either provide the required validation and support itself or convince others to do so. Looking at the competitors in the network OS space – Big Switch, Cumulus, and Pica8, to name a few – the work on integration and validation is very much a two-way street.

Validating product integration is critical for network disaggregation to succeed. If someone – a vendor, VAR, integrator –doesn’t take on the work, good luck finding a customer who will.

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