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Enterprise disaggregation is inevitable

Jim Duffy | June 26, 2015
Time unbundles all network elements as benefits enjoyed by service providers hit private networks beyond CPE.

What's more, network disaggregation is aligned with the agility and continuous innovation embodied in DevOps environments, where new IT developments are readily put into production use for business or operational gain.

But just as they've done up to now, enterprises will count on their tried, true and trusted OEM vendors -- Cisco, HP, Juniper, Arista and Dell -- for disaggregated gear rather than white box ODMs offering bare metal switches able to run a variety of operating systems, IDC states. The reason: to limit the amount of disruption a disruptive trend like disaggregation can inflict upon a brownfield environment.

"If network disaggregation was solely the preserve of ODMs and white box, its enterprise prospects would be severely limited," IDC states. "Enterprises want to buy from known, trusted vendors, and they want the service and support that those vendors provide."

Which means vendors traditionally offering vertically integrated network hardware and software will have to disrupt themselves to address the disaggregation opportunity. IDC believes Cisco, for example, should open up its merchant silicon-based Nexus 3000 top-of-rack switches with the ONIE boot loader so it can run a variety of third-party operating systems like Cumulus Linux, Big Switch's Switch Light, Open Network Linux, and Pica8's PicOS, as well as its own NX-OS.

IDC also believes Cisco should make the Linux-based NX-OS available as a third-party NOS for bare metal switches from ODMs and OEMs.

Arista might want to think about becoming a leading third-party NOS vendor for disaggregation, IDC states, by either offering its EOS operating system open source or as a licensable NOS to bare metal ODM and OEMs. Arista is more threatened by disaggregation than its peers because it is the incumbent vendor in cloud environments where the trend is establishing an initial beachhead.

HP, Juniper and Dell are already disaggregating though HP and Juniper could expand on their initial forays, IDC notes.

So not only is disaggregation an enterprise play, it's an inevitability. It will just take a while for it to spread beyond CPE as enterprises embrace it, familiarize themselves with it and figure out how to benefit from it while keeping disruption to a minimum.

"The benefits of disaggregation depends very much on the enterprise but I also think that today, the operational burden needed to effectively manage a disaggregated environment in the enterprise is quite high given today's tools and operational experience," says Current Analysis' Fratto.

"We're not there yet," says Doyle. "But it'll trickle deeper in there. It might take a while and it'll be more commercial (vendor than white box). They'll respond to their customers."


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