Deconstructing White Box Pricing

The issue with Cost Comparisons

As Open Networking has grown, we see discussions about the cost of “white box” vs vendor switches and questions if the difference in cost is real.

Vendor boxes such as the Juniper QFX3500 QFX5100, Cisco Nexus 3172, Brocade ICX 7750 are compared against ODM boxes such as the Edge-Core 5712-54x and Quanta T3048-LY8.

The numbers provided in many of the reports are cursory and not exposing some of the issues IT decision makers have to address.

Devices Covered in this Article

I looked at a few comparable devices and their associated costs including hardware, software and support.  The devices are the following:

Juniper QFX3500 QFX5100 (it has been pointed out that the 3500 is a Trident+ and I should really compare the 5100 which is a TridentII).

Cisco Nexus 3172

Brocade ICX 7750

Pica8 5101 (it has been pointed out that the 5101 uses a Freescale P2020 dual-core CPU, the only non-x86 CPU box listed)

Edge-Core AS5712-54x (running either Cumulus Linux or Pica8 PicOS)

Licensing and Support

When you buy a license for Cumulus Networks Cumulus Linux, You are also provided with a network operating system with full L3 routing features.  You are also provided with 24×7 support as part of the license.

With Juniper’s QFX3500 QFX5100 you get L3 routing features, and with the Cisco Nexus and Brocade’s ICX 7750, you get a base L2 OS with limited L3 features,  None of these products include support.

Pica8 like Cisco, sells their OS and in different flavors, an L2 and a full L3 version.  Pica8 does not bundle support with their software license.

All of the vendors offer support running anywhere from $800-$1600 a year and offering either software only or software and hardware support.

Creating the Comparison

I use the word reasonable to mean that the products are generally the same and that the comparison is as close as possible

A reasonable comparison between a Cisco Nexus 3172 at $14,000 with no support and no software would be a Edge-Core AS5712-54x at $6750 running Pica8 L2 software for $2199 and a total of $8949 making it 36% less.

A reasonable comparison between a Cisco Nexus 3172 with L3 software ($19,000) a Juniper QFX5100 ($21,000) or a Brocade ICX 7750 with L3 Software  ($20,000) with no support  would be Edge-Core AS5712-54x at $6750 running Pica8 L3 software for $3199 and a total of $9949. Or you can buy a bundled version of the P5101 from Netgate for $9940 a ~50% difference.

A reasonable comparison between a Cisco Nexus 3172 with 5 years 8x5xNBD support and L3 software (total cost $24,000), a Juniper QFX5100 with 8x5xNBD support (total cost $27,500) or a Brocade ICX 7750 with L3 and 8x5xNBD support (total cost ($23,420) would be a Pica8 P5101 with a Pica8 L3 license and support for $14,410 or  Edge-Core AS5712-54x at $6750 running Cumulus Linux for $4,499 for a total of $11,249 a minimum of 50% less.


No matter how you run the numbers, the difference is significant, with a ODM solution being 45% (fully loaded with 5 years support) to 64% (a basic L2 switch) of the cost (from most to least expensive) of the Juniper QFX5100Cisco Nexus 3172,  or a Brocade ICX 7750


Changing out the Juniper QFX3500 for the QFX5100 added about $2500 to the price.

A Question to Forrester about the White Box Myth

I sent this email to Forrester earlier and will be awaiting their reply.

Update: Forrester replied almost immediately, forwarded to their data team.

Update 2: The Data team does not believe the data came from them and Andre Kindness has stated that the information came from him.

Update 3: From twitter discussions, Andre has stated that he used a non-supported (no smartnet), no frills Nexus, which would be 14k street.

Screenshot 2015-03-17 12.00.26

The Cumulus software he used includes 24×7 support and a L3 forwarding license, which means the same would need to be included in he Nexus configuration to be a correct comparison.

Update 4:

Forrester has supplied a copy of the report and I have done some analysis.  I have supplied my feedback and will continue to work with Forrester to hopefully clarify the costs shown in the report.

Original Letter:


I have been going over the numbers that Jim Duffy published from Andre Kindness’ report “The Myth of Whitebox Switches” and I am unable to determine the source of the numbers.

I asked Andre and Forrester about this on twitter and Andre said “I’m not sure what u are saying. If u read the report all the numbers are publically available. I’m assuming white box report.”

I am unable to find the publicly available numbers that Andre points out exist, all I can find is the purchasable report, which is not public.

Can you provide me with the cost basis that Andre uses for the following slide as used by Jim Duffy in his article about disaggregation in the networking space


In the slide Andre puts together the numbers for a 6.6 year cost of ownership for the Accton 5712 and the Cisco Nexus 3172PQ and the numbers come out within 1k of each other, $13,339 for the Accton/Cumulus and $14,198 for the Cisco Nexus.

Where does Andre get the pricing for the Nexus?  Even using government pricing, a heavily discounted Nexus 3172pq is still $11,760 and the cost of SmartNet service is about 1k a year.  That would bring the numbers to ~17k not including taxes, duties, etc.

For the Accton AS5712, his numbers are closer, the public non-discounted hardware being $6570 and software being $2849 (3 year) or 4,499 (5 year) but not anywhere near the costs of the Cisco.

I plan to put all of this data out publicly, for no cost, and use it when training end users at public events (again for no cost). I will publish first on (my personal blog) and once I can assemble everything with confidence, I will put the breakdown on where we do completely open testing of network devices for the public good.

Thank you for your time

Steven Noble

Open Networking and Support

I spent most of my drive back from Sacramento this afternoon recording thoughts about Open Networking, ONIE, Cisco, HP, Juniper, Brocade, Testing and Support.  It is going to take some time to go through and get all of the relevant data out, so I decided to put some of my talking points here.

1.) The ONIE on Nexus 9000 announcement/recall from Cisco is helpful to the Open Networking Community:

When any networking vendor and especially a large one like Cisco announces support for Open Networking, such as ONIE on the Nexus 9000 (even if it is just “roadmap”), it is a huge gain for the community.

There are multiple values to having ONIE available on hardware, the ability to load another NOS is just one of them.  One that gets overlooked is that ONIE allows customers to utilize the same deployment/testing bootstrap configuration across multiple systems.

While we would love to see Cisco support other NOS on their boxes, just supporting ONIE, even on the roadmap, is a huge step in the industry.

2.) The HP/Cumulus announcement is important not only to HP/Cumulus, it’s also valuable to the Open Networking industry in general and will lead to better Open Networking products.

While the announcement from HP can be simplified down to “HP will sell Accton switches running Cumulus Linux”, the benefits to the community are much broader.

The real story is between the lines: HP will _support_ Open Networking.  Having a vendor the size of HP provide support for an Open Networking platform is highly valuable to the Community.

In order to support the products, HP will be running Accton switches in their labs, doing PoCs and putting resource into testing, documentation and other important work.

While we know the hardware is good (end users via reselling have been running Accton, Quanta and other ODM switches for a long time), customers are still getting used to dealing with ODM equipment.  Having HP stand behind Accton while running Cumulus Linux is much bigger than the two companies.

3.) Junipers involvement in the Open Compute Networking Project is important.

By providing an open switch design and a version of JunOS that runs on Open Networking Switches, Juniper has put a solid name behind Open Networking.  Running JunOS on Linux (via KVM) is going in a direction that I believe the industry needs to move in. The move supports the concept that there can be a separation between the OS and the Network Applications.

I believe that differentiation in Open Networking will come from the Network Applications, not the hardware or base operating system.

4.) Coming back around to the announcement of ONIE on Nexus 9k.

Both the JunOS on Linux and Nexus NX-OS systems run on top of Wind River Yocto Linux.  Two different top vendors running on the same base OS provides another proof point to how open Open Networking devices could be.