Network Switches a Commodity? Not Really

You see many network switches built on common components, such as network processors from companies such as Broadcom, which leads some people to think these devices are commodities. In reality, you see some creative ways in which each vendor offers differentiation.
One surprising way was differentiation with a different form factor. For example, a broadcast industry customer wanted all the connections to be in the back, unlike those with the classic front-panel ports and the power supply connectors in the back. Interface Masters has created a custom switch where the PC board of their standard device is effectively folded over, so the port connectors swing towards the back. It makes the otherwise dense 1U switch into a 2U switch, but it meets a distinctive customer requirement. In other respects, the switch meets standards such as meeting the Open Compute Project specifications but they understood the unique needs of some verticals.

Other companies differentiate by being first to market. Penguin Computing’s new Arctica switch became the first platform to support Cumulus Networks’ RMP Operating System. If you want to be the first one on the block, they’re ready to help you out.

Mainstream firms such as Cisco also use common network processors, but as I mentioned in a previous blog, software (OS, network stack) is key differentiator, as well as the classic support and service one expects.

So non-obvious differentiators such as designing custom form-factors and being agile in adopting new platforms augment the differences in software. The playbook is: “Make use of popular parts inside, with the customer-specific experience on the outside.”

A famous comedy TV show had an episode where we saw a soup shop owner who wanted all customers to order the same way. Otherwise, it was “No soup for you!” But instead, we have “Any soup for you?”


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Topics: Networking