- Cisco Nexus 9000 now looks like whitebrand switch product following changes in the market.
- The relatively low-cost of the product is attractive to Cisco’s loyal customers.
- Market share by revenue is high but market share by ports or devices is changing.
Nexus 9000 (Non-ACI) Is Whitebrand/Britebox
There are three parts to a whitebrand or britebox Ethernet switch today.
- Whitebox Ethernet switch hardware
- branded operating system
- branded vendor support for software and hardware.
For most vendors, the whitebox Ethernet hardware comes from well known manufacturers based in China such as Quanta and Accton. The same companies who produce most networking hardware for Cisco, Juniper, Brocade etc.
Nexus 9000 as Whitebox
The Nexus 9000 internal hardware is commodity merchant silicon. From what I can determine, the x86 processors, FPGA, memory, power supplies, fans etc are commodity components that are widely available on the open market. Broadcom StrataXGS/Trident switching silicon is used to rapidly bring the product to market in months instead of the usual five years for silicon build.
The ACI versions of the Nexus 9000 are not whitebrand product although they get benefits of commodity components, shared marketing and volume purchasing.
(this graphic was updated at 20150421-1936 to correct some errors, my apologies to those impacted)
The NX-OS is a Linux distribution. Cisco made a number of design choices to remove most or all Linux functions to make it appealing to Enterprise customers. Compared to Cumulus, BroadcomOS or PicoOS, NXOS represents a different design direction.
Hardware & Software Support
In my peer group there is consensus that Cisco’s Technical Assistance Centre (TAC) service & quality has been going downhill for some time but Cisco’s own customer satisfaction surveys remain high. There is no question that Cisco offers high quality but costly service capability on both hardware & software globally.
The Nexus 9000 is cheaper than other Cisco switch products by a substantial amount and appears to replace a substantial amount of Nexus 7000/6000/5000 sales in the data centre market. I read this a sign of demand for a low-cost, simpler Cisco Ethernet switch product rather than feature improvement or acceptance of the ACI SDN platform.
Conflation or Compression
Some time back, I considered merchant silicon and whitebox products as separate issues. Over the last six months, my perception is changing:
- It has become clear that any Ethernet switch is mostly merchant silicon and commodity elements even if the switching chip is proprietary.
- My perception of the value of proprietary switch silicon is now low. Merchant silicon is coming that has flexible pipelines, dynamic protocol support and better performance from multiple suppliers.
- The operating system has become the focal point for features, functions and capabilities. That is, network features like MLAG, BGP/MPLS and orchestration features like Puppet, Chef & Ansible.
The outcomes of this perception shift are:
- Silicon will be critical in product selection and features in the same way that x86 CPU selection was important five years ago (but not today). It matters, but not that much.
- operating system selection will be driven be features you are using in your network ie. STP, TRILL, MPLS, MLAG etc.
- operating system selection will be driven by the SDN platform in play i.e. Ansible, ACI, NSX, Nuage Networks, Big Switch all drive different operating system choices that subsequently drive hardware choices.
Cisco doesn’t need to embrace whitebox and its likely to be anathema the leadership team who have high levels of self belief in their “branding and value”
Cisco’s size means they manufacture more products than whitebox. But the market is shifting. The recent Delloro suggested that 7% of sales by revenue was whitebox in 2014. If you agree than Whitebox is one quarter the price, then this would suggest that whitebox volume would greater than 25% of ports or units shipped LAST YEAR.
The Cisco ACI SDN platform works best when using versions of the Nexus 9000 that has custom silicon to support extended features. These products would not fit the whitebrand model, are highly proprietary and restricted. They shouldn’t be confused with the discussion here.