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Come See Pica8 at Dell Technologies World – and Help Save a Real-Life Pika

Having been around the block a time or two, I’ve seen my share of trade show event booth giveaways and all manner of tchotchkes, most of which find their way to a trash can before the visitor gets home. For the upcomingDell Technologies World 2019in Las Vegas, we wanted to do something different – something that would impact the world in a positive way.

So, we’ll be raffling off 100 “adoptions” of real North American pikas, as part of the National Wildlife Federation’s Adopt-a-Pika program.

A pika is a small mammal, closely related to rabbits – and it’s in trouble. As the NWF explains, “Pikas live in high mountain ecosystems that are cool and moist. Higher temperatures can cause the pikas to overheat.”

As global warming brings higher temperatures to the pika’s habitat, it’s creating real problems. Pikas can’t just go find higher ground where it’s cooler – because that higher ground is their natural habitat.

“Without our protection and help, American pikas could be the first species with the distinction of going extinct due to global warming,” the NWF says.


Helping to save the pika

To avoid that distinction, the NWF launched the “Adopt an Continue reading

No Time Like the Present for Network Automation

The time has come for IT to once again dive into the world of homegrown automation for running their networks.

Network teams have a love/hate relationship with automation, and have had for decades. Time after time, they have tentatively extended the reach of automation, working with everything from PERL scripts, CLIs, and screen scrapes to Python and proper APIs in an effort to reduce the tedium of managing the enterprise campus, WAN, and data center networks. When network teams find ways to waste less time on rote work, they make IT more responsive.

Time after time, though, something goes wrong with the cobbled together systems. Soon, rolling back and correcting mistakes or nursing along the automation as platforms and environments evolve takes more time and effort than is ultimately saved by using it. IT folks pull back and wait for better circumstances, tools, and platforms. Eventually they get some of what they want via new consoles and management tools that hide within them some of the automation IT sought. Then the cycle starts up anew.

Now, the confluence of several trends in IT has made it clear that it is automation time again. First and foremost, the focus on digital Continue reading

Counting Up on the Benefits that Leaf-Spine Architecture Brings to Enterprise Networks

Counting Up the Benefits that Leaf-Spine Architecture Brings to Enterprise Networks

If your network, like most, is growing in size and complexity, perhaps it’s time to consider whether the traditional three-tier network architecture has run its course. It’s becoming apparent that a flatter, two-tier leaf spine network topology can bring dramatic changes in the way we manage networks – with as good or better performance.

Common enterprise network challenges

For decades we’ve been building networks based on the three-tier model: access, aggregation and core. Typical enterprise environments based on this model can easily comprise hundreds or thousands of individual networking devices, creating numerous challenges for implementation and operations teams to overcome in managing and maintaining the networks.

Sure, the teams have lots of software tools to manage and monitor the infrastructure, but they often have little to no integration with each other. Ongoing configuration management along with upgrades, policy and security changes therefore become exceedingly complex and time-consuming, often requiring administrators to log into each device, one at a time, to make changes.

And all the while, the network is often not efficiently utilizing bandwidth due to the use of Spanning Tree Protocol (STP). While the network is likely built Continue reading

8 “Fake News” Items that Tried to Hold Back Open Networking

The parallels between the efforts of the various open networking communities to modernize the networking industry and a Saturday afternoon pee-wee soccer scrum are far too close for comfort.  Both are characterized by loads of noisy, colorful – and mostly circular – movement – eventually followed by exhausted players staring at a ball that seems to be sitting pretty much right where it started.

At least that’s the way it’s been playing out for all the intrepid IT stewards running large enterprise networks — until now.  After years of enduring legacy-vendor-driven “fake news” stories paired with whispered misdirection designed to hold back the disaggregated white box open networking movement as a whole, truth has – finally — won out. 

Multiple Fortune 100 companies are now deploying open white box switches running Pica8’s PICOS® network operating system in their campus and branch office networks, mostly replacing aging Cisco and Juniper architectures.  (A parallel, in a sense, to the on-going white box tsunami in the data center.) Enterprise IT teams now realize that the access edge for campus networks is fully in play for long-overdue upgrades and replacements by more modern, simpler, more flexible, and vastly more Continue reading

White Box Open Networking: A Cure for Your Regulatory Compliance Ills

Just about every major US regulatory requirement says companies must use software that’s fully supported by the vendor that sells it. Simply put, if you’re using software that is beyond its end of life, you’re not only posing a security risk to your company – you’re also out of regulatory compliance.

It’s an issue for any public company, given that they must all comply with the Sarbanes Oxley Act, as well as any company that must meet the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).  Those three acts alone cover an awful lot of, if not most, US companies.

All software has a lifecycle, including the network operating system (NOS) software controlling all the network switches and routers in enterprise networks. When that NOS is nearing its end of life, meaning you have no choice but to upgrade in order to stay in compliance, it’s a good time to assess your available options. In fact, given the pace of technology change, it’s a safe bet that you’ve got alternatives that quite literally didn’t exist when you installed your current NOS five, six — or more — years ago.

White Continue reading

50 Shades of Open Source: How to Determine What’s Suitable for Enterprise White Box Networking

To date, the open source community has been quite successful in terms of coming up with scalable and reliable implementations for enterprise servers, databases and more. Yet many enterprises remain skittish about implementing open source software, probably no more so than in the networking space.

Part of the reason is that there are so many different implementations of open source software, many of them backed by different entities with different agendas. Having many minds contribute to an open source project can be a good thing – until it comes time to make a decision about something and stick with it, so you can get a working product out the door. Enterprises need practical implementations that they can count on day in and day out to get a job done.

Defining the shades of open source
Open source essentially comes in different shades that are not all created equal. Understanding them will help you determine whether the open source implementation you have in mind has the kind of reliability and stability you need in any enterprise IT tool or application.

At a base level is the “pure” open source community, where like-minded people contribute their time and knowledge to a project. Continue reading

Like Watching the Caveman Invent the Rock – Cisco “Discovers” Software

In truth, today’s legacy enterprise networks — many now decades overdue for replacement — were built to fight Cold Wars among the vendor powers.  Cisco “big iron” battled Wellfleet “big iron” and, later, Juniper “big iron,” and the throughput/density contests are now the stuff of NetOps legend.  But these aging networks are completely ill-suited to fight today’s data-oriented guerilla warfare, where hackers, DevOps, IoT, mobile, open source, and cloud services clamor for attention and have NetOps IT people desperately trying to manage an environment that feels more like a third-world airport terminal flooded with people fleeing a coup than a predictable business utility.

To be fair, Cisco was able to successfully weaponize account control far better than Juniper, Extreme, et al, so they ended up “winning” – and keeping — the large enterprise business to the tune of some 80 percent market share.  But this business stranglehold can no longer be defended by the moral equivalent of a proprietary Maginot Line.  The new name of the networking guerilla warfare game is software.  The new “best practice?” — disaggregated Linux-based open white box switching with a full enterprise feature set – one that is future-proofed with Continue reading

Thanks, Arista! We’ll Leave a Light on for You

Wow.  Just, wow.  Here we were at Pica8, ten days away from announcing a screamingly simplified white box switching architecture for enterprise campus networks – one that makes legacy switch stack and chassis switch replacement with disaggregated white box switches ridiculously easy — when Arista suddenly pops up and says that the success white box switches are having in the data center is now well and truly annoying to them, so they are starting to plan a future expedition to the enterprise campus in search of replacing lost revenue.

But after blowing straight past total market validation for us – we already have a number of ongoing enterprise campus network deployments inside some of Cisco’s oldest and largest accounts – Arista then went on to articulate the changes they envision for their future campus network switching push and, in doing so, came very close to a one-to-one mapping with what we’ve just announced as an orderable solution with our new PicaPilot switch orchestration software (see link below). (I really must order a case of champagne for my friends over there.)

Just how close is the mapping?  Well, let’s start with solving the urgent requirement to simplify Continue reading

Dismantling Cisco’s Conservation of Complexity Gambit

From the very beginning, Cisco Systems tightly embraced the use of complexity as a market differentiator. Creating a complicated CLI to configure networking gear instead of a relatively simple GUI – Wellfleet’s choice — was an early move down this path.   The next cab off this particular rank was the creation of the CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert) program in the early 1990’s, which, in full disclosure, I had a hand in developing back in the day.  This program was explicitly designed to be as difficult and complicated as possible – mirroring the products themselves – so that a CCIE “diploma” on a cubicle wall would be considered a badge of honor and give bragging rights to its owner.  And, with something like 3-1/2-million CCIEs out there today, this particular bit of planned complexity was clearly a winner.

The inherent irony in all of this is that ante-Cisco life in networking was quite a simple place, really. (Show of hands anyone who remembers the two top bridging vendors, Halley Systems and Vitalink?)  But, at the end of the day, networks had to grow so that businesses and, eventually, the Internet, could run on them, and bridging technology simply Continue reading

Comment la commutation « White Box » canalise Trader Joe’s

L’année 2018 est une année phénoménale pour être dans le secteur de la mise en réseau désagrégé. Il n’y a jamais eu un meilleur moment d’y être – non seulement pour les vendeurs, mais aussi pour les chefs d’entreprise eux-mêmes. Le marché pour l’innovation du réseau s’est enfin precisé après une longue balade à travers le désert qui compose la piété du SDN académique, et le hardware sur lequel fonctionne l ‘infrastructure réseau désagrégé basé sur le Linux est maintenant de calibre mondiale – les mêmes ASICs et le même hardware qu’utilisent les vendeurs actuels, et probablement les mêmes câbles électriques, si l’on digne regarder d’assez près.

Alors où entre Trader Joe’s – un supermarché américain très performant – dans cette équation ? En quatre mots: la proposition de valeur. Alors que les vendeurs de l’OS réseau « white box » comme Pica8 n’ont pas délibérément cherché à émuler les valeurs de l’entreprise Trader Joe’s, il s’avère que c’est plus ou moins ce que nous avons fait. La configuration de nos valeurs est curieusement similaire.

Meilleure qualité au moindre coût? Oui.

Service et réactivité comme buts principaux? Encore oui.

Utiliser les mêmes produits que nos plus grands compétiteurs, mais sans noms de marque? Continue reading

How White Box Networking is Channeling Trader Joe’s

2018 is a particularly good time to be in the disaggregated networking business. Truth is, it’s never been better – either for the vendors or for the enterprise network managers themselves. The market for network innovation has finally sorted itself out after a long wander through the desert of academic SDN piety, and the hardware that disaggregated Linux-based NOS software runs on is now world class – same ASICs and hardware the legacy guys use, probably even the same power cords if you look close enough.

So where does Trader Joe’s – a highly successful retail food store innovator in the US – possibly come into this equation? Two words: value proposition. While white box NOS vendors like Pica8 did not deliberately set out to emulate the basic business values of Trader Joe’s, it turns out that, well, we basically did.  The mapping is eerily similar.

Higher quality at lower cost? Check.

A focus on service and responsiveness? Double check.

Using the same product sources as their larger competitors but without brand-name labels? Triple check.

And, finally, having absolutely everything you need to make a great meal/network without burying you under unnecessary options that make your head spin? Quadruple Continue reading

AT&T’s dNOS Initiative Spotlights Fake News from Cisco (et al.)

network-serverOne thing that’s clear from recent events is that the “alternative” path for network infrastructure refresh and build-outs – disaggregation – has just become exciting again due, in part, to AT&T’s recent announcement of the company’s dNOS (disaggregated Networking Operating System) initiative. Actually, prior to this proposal the fact that Pica8 and Cumulus – the only two pure open-standards-based NOS vendors in the market – combined have close to 2,000 current customers running on common hardware suggests that it’s been pretty exciting for some time now.

But AT&T’s new proposal does present us with a perfect opportunity to finally throw a bright spotlight on the palette of Fake News that has been tossed around the industry about disaggregated networking solutions and white-box networking in general. Of course, the elephant in the networking room is always Cisco, so let’s start there to see why AT&T pushed out this proposal in the first place.

Over the years, Cisco has successfully stared down any real threats to its account-control-plus-per-hardware-port-revenue business model, building itself up to the hegemony that it has today and, in the process, inadvertently laying waste to its customers’ ability to innovate in their own market segments based on differentiated network services. Continue reading

AT&T’s dNOS Initiative Spotlights Fake News from Cisco (et al.)

network-serverOne thing that’s clear from recent events is that the “alternative” path for network infrastructure refresh and build-outs – disaggregation – has just become exciting again due, in part, to AT&T’s recent announcement of the company’s dNOS (disaggregated Networking Operating System) initiative. Actually, prior to this proposal the fact that Pica8 and Cumulus – the only two pure open-standards-based NOS vendors in the market – combined have close to 2,000 current customers running on common hardware suggests that it’s been pretty exciting for some time now.

But AT&T’s new proposal does present us with a perfect opportunity to finally throw a bright spotlight on the palette of Fake News that has been tossed around the industry about disaggregated networking solutions and white-box networking in general. Of course, the elephant in the networking room is always Cisco, so let’s start there to see why AT&T pushed out this proposal in the first place.

Over the years, Cisco has successfully stared down any real threats to its account-control-plus-per-hardware-port-revenue business model, building itself up to the hegemony that it has today and, in the process, inadvertently laying waste to its customers’ ability to innovate in their own market segments based on differentiated network services. Continue reading

SDN: Is Here to Stay

In an October 3, 2017 article published in Network Computing, titled: “SDN: Time to Move On,” Gartner Analysts report on the state of software-defined networking and advise enterprises to shift their focus. It has triggered some interesting conversation in the SDN field. As a leading player of SDN technology, we have received several inquiries for comments on the article. While the controversial title grabbed a lot of attention, it’s alarming to many and far from reality. More importantly, it differs from what Gartner reports have concluded.

From what we see in the market, SDN has already landed real use cases and built the momentum to change the production network. However, as Gartner expressed in the reports, we have seen two gaps in adopting SDN: It takes a long time for customers to adopt this nascent technology; and while SDN can be used to solve many imminent issues, it is not a panacea to all networking problems.

image-profit_imageshutterstockAccording to Gartner, “SDN started as a new technical architecture, but brought into light some valuable concepts that outlived the original blueprint,” Gartner VP Distinguished Analyst, Joe Skorupa and Research Director, Danilo Ciscato wrote. The article also reveals, “The story’s different in Continue reading

SDN: Is Here to Stay

In an October 3, 2017 article published in Network Computing, titled: “SDN: Time to Move On,” Gartner Analysts report on the state of software-defined networking and advise enterprises to shift their focus. It has triggered some interesting conversation in the SDN field. As a leading player of SDN technology, we have received several inquiries for comments on the article. While the controversial title grabbed a lot of attention, it’s alarming to many and far from reality. More importantly, it differs from what Gartner reports have concluded.

From what we see in the market, SDN has already landed real use cases and built the momentum to change the production network. However, as Gartner expressed in the reports, we have seen two gaps in adopting SDN: It takes a long time for customers to adopt this nascent technology; and while SDN can be used to solve many imminent issues, it is not a panacea to all networking problems.

image-profit_imageshutterstockAccording to Gartner, “SDN started as a new technical architecture, but brought into light some valuable concepts that outlived the original blueprint,” Gartner VP Distinguished Analyst, Joe Skorupa and Research Director, Danilo Ciscato wrote. The article also reveals, “The story’s different in Continue reading

Time to Overhaul Your Campus Network

Over the last few years cloud service providers have steadily adopted white-box Ethernet switches and modern, flexible Network Operating Systems into their ecosystems. Mega data center operators, such as Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, have replaced their proprietary gear with white boxes in their production environments. The major benefit of this paradigm shift is significantly reduced CapEx and OpEx, a more reliable environment, and customized traffic flows for efficiency.  According to IDC, the worldwide ODM direct Ethernet switch (white box) market was $677 million in 2016 and is expected to exceed $900 million in 2017. That’s a growth rate of 33%, and the trend is accelerating.

The shift in white-box adoption started as early as 2012, but has been limited to data centers for many reasons. Even though Enterprise IT executives are motivated to adopt white-boxes, the migration has been slow and challenging. Essentially, the Enterprise network is distinctly different from data center network in many ways.

overhaul_campus_network

  • The data center network is usually homogeneous, while the Enterprise network is heterogeneous. Typically, Enterprises require a variety of speeds ranging from 100Mbps to 100Gbps, and run over different cables, including various types of copper and fiber. The increasingly deployed Power over Ethernet (PoE) Continue reading

Time to Overhaul Your Campus Network

Over the last few years cloud service providers have steadily adopted white-box Ethernet switches and modern, flexible Network Operating Systems into their ecosystems. Mega data center operators, such as Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, have replaced their proprietary gear with white boxes in their production environments. The major benefit of this paradigm shift is significantly reduced CapEx and OpEx, a more reliable environment, and customized traffic flows for efficiency.  According to IDC, the worldwide ODM direct Ethernet switch (white box) market was $677 million in 2016 and is expected to exceed $900 million in 2017. That’s a growth rate of 33%, and the trend is accelerating.

The shift in white-box adoption started as early as 2012, but has been limited to data centers for many reasons. Even though Enterprise IT executives are motivated to adopt white-boxes, the migration has been slow and challenging. Essentially, the Enterprise network is distinctly different from data center network in many ways.

overhaul_campus_network

  • The data center network is usually homogeneous, while the Enterprise network is heterogeneous. Typically, Enterprises require a variety of speeds ranging from 100Mbps to 100Gbps, and run over different cables, including various types of copper and fiber. The increasingly deployed Power over Ethernet (PoE) Continue reading

A Road to Open Networking:  Focused Deliverables, Measurable ROI, Same Sheet of Music

Every day at Pica8 we are supporting a global customer base involved in creative, leading–edge applications using the PicOS NOS on white box switches.  We develop the software to meet the latest challenges of complex protocol sets, high performance switching requirements and operational demands.

We often face the RFI/RFQ that appears to be boilerplate for incumbent switching solutions – the protocol set is classic legacy L2/L3, and is comprehensive.  Customers may have working solutions, but they wonder if they can achieve better ROI with “white box” and independent Network Operating System software.  It can be difficult – DevOps and network programmability call for organizational transformation, and a problem-free rollout may be elusive.

Here’s a project example that elucidates the gradual approach that gets people involved and engaged. After describing a sequence of steps, I’ll highlight the transformation that has been achieved.  And YES, CLI is not dead.

Steps to Deployment

–          Team responds to an RFI for access and data center network switches
–          Customer provides an RFI response, and Pica8 receives customer-defined Proof of Concept requirements
–          Participate in PoC onsite lab testing, get the scorecard – 2 months
–          Roll up sleeves and deliver Continue reading

What does it mean that Cisco will sell Software?

Our friend Cisco made a big announcement this week – “Cisco has built a new networking operating system that will allow users to run its most sophisticated networking features on older and lower cost Cisco routers and switches”.

We welcome and are in fact quite excited about this change. This validates the inevitable paradigm shift of the segregation of network hardware and software, and even a big titan like Cisco cannot stop the change.

If you can recall Cisco’s then-CEO John Chambers’ talk in 2015, Chambers dismissed SDN and white box makers, saying “We are seeing no unusual competition in the market, no unusual competition with white-label or white box [vendors], nor will we in the future.” Even in mid 2016, the new Cisco CEO, Chuck Robbins, still maintained the same tough position, stating “There’s a misconception that’s driving the belief that all customers want to buy white box switches”. That was less than a year ago, and the world has completely changed.

So Cisco has changed their opinion. The market is going through a paradigm shift, and I actually admire Cisco’s courage to embrace the changes instead of fighting them. Cisco has been leading the networking industry Continue reading

White Box Switches Have Grown Up

White box switches have come a long way. The recent activities in OCP validate the vision and progress of white box switches, and more importantly it is clear that this trend is progressing from data centers to enterprises. I remember when Zeus Kerravala wrote in his 2016 article, “White Box Switches are Now Ready for Prime Time,” he pointed out three important advantages:

– Cost and reliability
– Features and capabilities
– Network operations

As a NOS vendor, we see NOS is being adopted into production environments. Even though there are still challenges with white box switches going from data centers to other segments, there is no doubt the networking industry has moved onto the path toward white box switches.

From what we saw at OCP Summit, the overall reliability of white box switches is improving, and in many cases, they are more reliable than some brand-name hardware. We can now find dozens of vendors providing white box switches. These vendors come with different backgrounds and carry out different approaches in designing their hardware platforms. In OCP, we can see three clearly different types of vendors providing white box switches:

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