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Why Facebook's SDN switch won't affect Cisco's customers

Zeus Kerravala | June 24, 2014
While Facebook's SDN switch puts the company in the networking game on paper,the appeal of Wedge will be niche and the impact negligible for a couple of reasons.

Last week, Facebook announced a new product that's supposed to have the networking industry trembling. There were many news stories about Facebook's new homegrown SDN switch, known by the codename "Wedge" that's supposed to be the next big threat to Cisco and the traditional networking vendors. The operating system on the product runs Facebook's proprietary version of Linux called FBOSS.

Facebook plans to put the switch into the Open Compute Project, an open-source development community that Facebook has been active in. In many ways, Wedge isn't so much a switch as it is a reference design. Everything in the switch is open source -- software, processors, etc. - so anyone can build their own switch from the design. Now, for customers that are interested in this product, there's no "Facebook Store" to buy this from. Nor can organizations pick up the phone and call the friendly, neighborhood VAR. Instead, businesses would need to order it from a custom manufacturer.

So Facebook is now the latest vendor to toss its hat into the SDN ring. Are they a real threat to companies like Cisco, Brocade, and even the newly IPOed Arista Networks? While this product puts Facebook in the networking game on paper, I believe the appeal of Wedge will be niche and the impact negligible for a couple of reasons.

The first is that most mainstream businesses don't want "build it yourself, Open Compute Project" networking products. I've interviewed literally hundreds of customers and VARs on this topic and the appeal is very limited. Heck, most businesses don't even want to build their own servers and PCs, and those are about as commodity as IT infrastructure gets. This isn't Lego, it's a network, and "build it yourself" does carry with it significant risk. It's hard to overstate the value the network has today, particularly in light of the rise of cloud and mobile computing. The world has evolved to network-centric compute models, which means the quality, reliability, and resiliency of the network is the biggest determining factor of whether these initiatives are successful or not. The feedback I've gotten from most customers is that it's better to pay up and procure networking products from companies where performance is predictable and support is available. That's why the appeal of something like Wedge will be negligible in mainstream enterprises. Even if a company wants to test the white box concept, a product from someone like Pica8 that has a hardened OS and some technical support would make more sense.

Also, there's a channel issue. Most organizations buy networking products from their local VAR, systems integrator or other distributor. Facebook won't be available through these channels, so where would one even go to procure a Wedge? Most organizations don't have purchasing relationships with custom hardware vendors or contract manufacturers, and that creates another barrier to entry for Facebook and the other OCP products.


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