Networking vendors do not make all component of their networking device, or even most of them. This includes the operating system and the applications on the device itself.
The physical hardware inside a network device comes from a number of vendors. Broadcom, Cavium and Marvell all make Ethernet switching silicon but there are many other components. Network processors, CPU, memory, flash storage are all off-the-shelf components that are wide use in many other technology. The networking hardware market is not very large and high profit margins on networking make it impractical to design custom technology. The design and integration of these components into a functional piece of hardware is commonly outsourced to specialist design firms. HCL is a well known vendor here. These companies are often based in China & India since it takes large
Network operating systems are often purchased from third party suppliers such as QNX. Juniper’s Junos is famously based on FreeBSD. It has become more common to use Linux in recent years. For example, Cisco’s NX-OS uses
RedHat Montavista Linux as a base, Big Switch Networks is a key supporter of Open Network Linux
Incumbent vendors vendors have very similar product development models because their applications have identical outcomes and must be interoperable. Applications such as routing protocols, management interfaces, and silicon modules are often purchased from third parties such as Tail-F or IP Infusion.
The EtherealMind View
Understanding of the hardware & software architecture in networking hasn’t been a big issue for the last 20 years. Mostly because vendors sold integrated solutions and it wasn’t necessary. In the end, a network device has similar architecture to any other computer and vendors are mixing & matching the available software & hardware components to sell to you. I often wonder if this why there are so many bugs ? Producing a seamless product that has been assembled from dozens of vendors is really quite difficult and requires excellent team of in-house engineers to ensure that quality is maintained. In times of shrinking profit margins and pressure to reduce head count, this might be the first area to take the hit. Any thoughts ? Something I’ve missed ? Hit the comments, I will be watching.
PS: Montavista Linux is commercial distribution optimised for use “Carrier Grade” networks. Arguably, all Linux versions are carrier grade because carrier services aren’t actually that reliable nor do they need to be.