From Purpose-Built to OCP-Based Platforms

How service providers and enterprises benefit from the packet broker evolution

From Purpose-Built to OCP-Based Platforms

Service providers and large enterprises are continuing their inexorable march toward digital transformation, and the disaggregation of network hardware and software is a key part of that strategy. Software-defined networking (SDN), virtualization, and the migration of applications to public and private clouds are all steps these organizations are taking to lower costs, improve efficiencies, and remain competitive.

As they begin to implement their strategies for network infrastructure, however, these organizations face a common problem: there are hundreds of disparate tools for security, network performance management, and so on. These stand-alone tools not only add complexity to the network but also impact end-to-end visibility, because there’s no single pane of glass from which to monitor the network.

Early network packet brokers (NPB) provided some relief, but cost-effectively gaining networkwide visibility remained a challenge because of the purpose-built, inflexible nature of the NPB platforms. The good news: The same hardware-software disaggregation is now taking place in the NPB space, with vendors incorporating open compute hardware platforms with white-box switches that support a range of functions based on the capabilities of the underlying merchant silicon chipset.

The economies of scale these environments provide include increased performance, decreased costs, and significantly more flexibility in hardware and software selection. Service providers can now opt for open compute platforms in the way that best suits their needs, either by purchasing a bundle of software with hardware platforms delivered as turnkey appliances from the NPB vendor, or by purchasing bare-metal switches from their preferred channel and separately installing the NPB vendor’s software.

The Value of Open Compute

In the open compute model, the control and data planes are disaggregated, and network functions are software-defined rather than dependent on purpose-built hardware. This provides tremendous agility and scalability to service providers and enterprises, because it allows vendors to innovate on the software side rather than in the inflexible purpose-built hardware layer. In other words, the open compute white-box switch is a commodity, and the value is in the software.

This common software layer allows service providers and enterprises to control an entire network of NPBs based on white-box switches simply by tying them together in a single fabric they can manage centrally, reducing tool creep, and simplifying network operations.

White-box switches are growing increasingly sophisticated and can now handle many advanced brokering functions for cost-effective, software-driven packet flow visibility. Examples of advanced brokering features include fixed offset filtering, protocol header stripping/de-encapsulation, inner L3/L4 packet filtering, conditional packet slicing for payload removal, flow port tagging, and packet time stamping.

This new visibility gives service providers several benefits as they look to achieve new levels of packet flow visibility, including:

  • The ability to scale on demand as network requirements grow
  • More cost-effective deployments, especially in larger networks
  • Simplified configuration and management of visibility overlays
  • The ability to buy open compute platforms via the service provider’s preferred vendor(s)

Future-Proof Network Visibility

The industry shift from specialized, purpose-built platforms to software-driven, open compute platforms is enabling the creation of flexible, scalable, and cost-effective packet flow visibility. By implementing software-driven NPB capabilities on commodity white-box hardware, service providers and enterprises get new levels of visibility into their most important network assets, with the ability to scale as their network requirements grow.

Learn more about how NETSCOUT offers its customers future-proof network visibility.