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Open networking, known in the industry as white box networking, is a broad term for generic, off-label hardware that presents a cheaper and more agile solution than branded, upmarket alternatives. 

With a lower cost per unit, open networking can deliver tremendous value when deployed at scale. Not surprisingly, massive hyperscale providers like Amazon, Google and Facebook have been leveraging open networking technology for some time.

Open networking is not a disruptive technology, per se, but represents a facilitator for disruptive technologies to deliver value at scale. Service providers, cloud providers and major enterprise organizations all have compelling business cases to pursue open networking infrastructure.

While it's easy to understand the value open networking can provide, implementing this technology remains a challenge for most organizations. That's why it's important for those considering an open networking strategy to be familiar with what they are getting into. 

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5 key open networking questions

When we interact with customers interested in open networking, we typically ask them to answer five key questions.

1. How committed are you to open networking?

Open networking represents a substantial departure from the usual way of doing business. At a minimum, it requires development and education across the organization. The economics work best at scale. Everyone from top executives and systems architects to engineers and operations personnel -- not to mention the heads of each line of business -- needs to be onboard and on the same page.

2. How do you plan to test your open networking solution?

Most organizations' labs are optimized for 12- to 24-month research cycles. But validating an open network solution is not a one-time event. It is an ongoing, iterative process that must constantly track changes in four major components in two-to-four week intervals: 

  1. Hardware
  2. Operating system
  3. Chipset
  4. Optics

3. How are you going to deploy your open networking solution?

By definition, disaggregated open networking solutions arrive with "some assembly required." After all, we're creating something new here. The classic image of a system expert getting paid to unbox things on the loading dock doesn't work anymore -- all modern open networking solutions will require serious supply chain and logistics support.

4. How are you going to manage your open network?

Management of open networking systems is critical. When disaggregating software from hardware, numerous issues can unfold. 

Managing thousands of units via PuTTY (an open source terminal emulator application) is not viable. Rather, you need a robust DevOps and MANO infrastructure supported by operations and engineering teams well-versed in soup-to-nuts support of the platform. This means having both well-documented processes and a well-educated workforce.

5. How do you plan to support your open network going forward?

An open networking environment promises low-cost agility. However, you should be aware that the traditional "perks" associated with buying brand-name devices -- like dedicated support, troubleshooting, return merchandise authorization, etc. -- are not included if you go the route of open networking. So having a plan for such scenarios is of upmost importance. 

Bonus question: How can WWT help?

Answering these questions may seem scary. But if these issues are addressed appropriately and solutions implemented strategically, open networking can transform your organization into a more agile entity that can adapt to meet rapidly evolving customer needs.

Lucky for you, we are well positioned to help you think about the above questions and answer them in a way that meets your specific business requirements.

Let's go back over the questions, this time with a focus on how we can help you achieve your open networking goals.

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How WWT solves open networking

How committed are you to open networking?  

Our team of networking experts can help provide an organizational assessment to determine readiness, identify gaps and develop a plan tailored to tackle your business challenges and close those gaps in a realistic timeline.

How are you going to test your open networking solution?  

Our Advanced Technology Center (ATC) is an unmatched testing facility that allows organizations to design, validate and better understand the technical benefits, risks, and challenges associated with the open networking model. De-risk solutions before they are deployed and do so faster than ever before.

How are you going to deploy your open networking solution?  

Supply chain and integration are at the core of our business. We bring together all of the component parts (hardware and software) in our state-of-the-art integration facilities -- located strategically around the world (St. Louis, Amsterdam, Singapore, Mumbai) -- to deliver a production-ready product when and where you need it.

How are you going to manage your open network? 

WWT's Infrastructure Services organization can assist in the development and customization of management and orchestration solutions, provide education and training in the various components of the open networking environment, and augment your operations staff with highly skilled open networking professionals.

How will you support your open network going forward? 

WWT maintains strong relationships with nearly every major original design manufacturer (ODM) in the market. This allows us to coordinate support efforts between vendors, provide coherent fix plans when things go wrong and handle any dead-on-arrival hardware before it's ever deployed in the field. 

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The benefits of open networking are tangible, but only when deployed at scale and combined with proven methods to keep operational costs (both budgetary and timeline) in check.

Organizations thinking of deploying white box solutions should closely consider the five questions above. They should also weigh the substantial benefit of leveraging an experienced systems integrator, such as WWT, to devise a strategic approach to open networking, de-risk solutions before they're deployed and facilitate the support the solutions on an ongoing basis.