In 2014, social media giant Facebook introduced their own switch technology, Wedge, to be used in the company’s data centers and made available for those in the networking community. For large companies like Facebook with specific data needs and copious resources, developing unique network technology is useful. For most enterprise networking needs, however, utilizing “white box” technology is not necessary or practical.
Facebook’s Wedge, however, certainly drew attention from the enterprise network giant Cisco. The operating system developed for Wedge is open source and able to be adjusted and improved by anyone wishing to do so. The rapidly improving switch now supports 100-gigabyte ethernet speeds, a great achievement for a switch of its type. More notably, the switch was developed with disaggregation in mind. With disaggregation, software and hardware are made independent of each other. Traditional switch hardware is not flexible in the software it uses, so a switch bought from Cisco has to be run with Cisco’s switch operating system. Versus these systems, a disaggregated switch gives the owner more options, reduces maintenance costs, and has better potential to be scaled and keep up with new and changing enterprise needs.
While Facebook is unlikely to become a major competitor to Cisco, the concept of disaggregation and the proof-of-usefulness draws attention. Wedge is vetted in Facebook’s data centers, successfully meeting some of the most demanding networking needs. The effectiveness of disaggregated switch technology means it is likely to become a greater trend. With enterprises consistently demanding more from their network, data turning into big data, cloud computing becoming standard, network reliability being fundamental to business, and with upkeep being a necessary expenditure, a solution that is both stable and flexible has tremendous appeal.
Thus, the utilization of disaggregated switches has the ability to disturb the market dominated by Cisco. More recent improvements to Wedge may push Cisco to mainstream their own similar technology, or face losing an increasing chunk of their market to white boxing.
As a trend, disaggregation seems to be most useful for very large companies like Facebook and Google, or cloud providers. The technology does not necessarily have significant implications for small or medium sized businesses. Historically, however, technology has a way of trickling down from the pioneering phases of existing only within large companies with tremendous resources, to becoming more standardized across the board.
Facebook’s Wedge may be valued just for its capability to compete with Cisco and other networking dominators. This kind of competition can only be healthy for the community. Wedge is more likely to nudge Cisco in the right direction rather than pose a significant threat, and that encourages productivity and advancement. Competition is always key.
From a strictly philosophical standpoint, one can argue that anything open source or free to be modified is likely to advance faster and farther and become a greater asset. A disaggregated switch as “software-agnostic” works in a similar way, aided by its independence. In summary, the world of technology is not static; the tools we use within that world shouldn’t be either.