Network Disaggregation – A Winning Strategy that is Ready Now!


Renowned Harvard Business School Professor and author of the “Theory of Disruptive Innovation”, Clayton Christensen in an interview said:

“During the early stages of an industry, when the functionality and reliability of a product isn’t yet adequate to meet customer’s needs, a proprietary solution is almost always the right solution — because it allows you to knit all the pieces together in an optimized way.:

“But once the technology matures and becomes good enough, industry standards emerge. That leads to the standardization of interfaces, which lets companies specialize on pieces of the overall system, and the product becomes modular. At that point, the competitive advantage of the early leader dissipates, and the ability to make money migrates to whoever controls the performance-defining subsystem.”

The network industry is mature and as a natural consequence, network systems are disaggregating. Network disaggregation gives customers the freedom to choose  switch hardware and software operating system from different vendors. This is very much like buying a server and then installing your choice of operating system on it. The proliferation of disaggregated switching platforms is putting pressure on the legacy networking vendors. Traditional vendors have been forced to disaggregate for select large customers. However, it is hard for these legacy vendors to disaggregate the network for the larger market as it will adversely affect their revenue and profit margin. It simply would not fit their business model.

Mellanox pioneered the Open Ethernet approach to network disaggregation. Today, Mellanox Spectrum Ethernet switches have support for the widest range of open network operating systems. At the 2018 OCP, Mellanox demonstrated switches running Mellanox Onyx, Microsoft SoNIC, Facebook FBOSS and Cumulus Linux. The demonstrations also showcased Apstra’s intent based networking software which interfaces with network operating systems to deliver turnkey infrastructure operations, troubleshooting and automation.

What sets Mellanox Spectrum Open Ethernet switches apart?

  1. Best of breed functionality

Mellanox specializes in building high-performance, feature-rich data center switching platforms. Mellanox Spectrum Ethernet switches flexibly support 1/10/25/40/50/100GbE speeds, line rate performance, and consistent low latency. Spectrum has the best support for VXLAN and RDMA over Converged Ethernet (RoCE) available.

Even though there are many Ethernet switch vendors, all of them build systems using the identical switch chip with the same crippling performance constraints. With Network Disaggregation and Spectrum Open Ethernet switches, customers are no longer constrained by the limitations imposed by legacy chipsets.

  1. Freedom of choice without vendor lock-in

Buying traditional switches is buying into vendor lock-in, where customers pay more and get less. For example, vendor transceivers pricing is one of the biggest areas where legacy vendors “rip off” customers.  Legacy vendor lock-in tactics can cost customers as much as 50% more for optical transceivers. Some vendors use questionable tactics to force their products into the supply chain.

Legacy vendors charge software license fees for every little feature including dynamic routing protocols. Often unsuspecting customers fall for the “bait and switch ” tactics used by legacy vendors.

Mellanox open Ethernet switches have a transparent pricing model with no special software licenses and support for third-party optics. With a disaggregated model customers can enjoy true freedom of technology choice – hardware, software, and data center architecture.

  1. Broadest choice of open and fit for purpose Network Operating System (NOS)

Not all Ethernet switches get deployed in the same way, but traditional vendors attempt to address all use cases with a single NOS. Some switches may be used in a virtualized cloud network environment, others as a network packet broker or as a bare-metal Linux appliance. Mellanox Spectrum Ethernet switches support a wide variety of “fit for purpose” operating systems. For example:

  1. Mellanox Onyx is the NOS of choice for customers who are used to a classic CLI based interface with Enterprise class Layer-2, Layer-3 features. Onyx also is the preferred operating system for Storage, Machine Learning, and Network Packet Broker
  2. Cumulus Linux is the NOS of choice for customers that are DevOps centric, prefer a Linux based interface, or are interested in VXLAN based Network Virtualization.
  3. Spectrum Linux Switch is the right choice for customers who want to build their own switch systems on top of completely open Linux operating system. Customers can access switch functionality with standard Linux APIs. They can install their choice of open-source modules on top, to build their system their own way.

The Bottom line

Traditional vendors do not have a business model to support network disaggregation for the general market. Traditional closed system based supply chain favors the legacy vendors with inferior technology. Break free from the limitations of traditional networking. Disaggregate your network and build it with Mellanox Spectrum Open Ethernet Switches and choose the networking software that best suits your needs. Mellanox Spectrum switches have the highest performance and support the widest choice of open, fit-for-purpose Network Operating Systems.

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About Karthik Mandakolathur

Karthik is a Senior Director of Product Marketing at Mellanox. Karthik has been in the networking industry for over 15 years. Before joining Mellanox, he held product management and engineering positions at Cisco, Broadcom and Brocade. He holds multiple U.S. patents in the area of high performance switching architectures. He earned an MBA from The Wharton School, MSEE from Stanford and BSEE from Indian Institute of Technology.

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