Network Packet Brokers have become a core part of the network infrastructure, allowing enterprises to optimize their cyber security and NPM/APM deployments by providing full network visibility, filtering, DPI and load balancing. Traditionally, packet brokers were vertically integrated with inextricable hardware and software. This worked well for a while, however, as network traffic and capacities increased exponentially, proprietary packet broker hardware could rarely meet the performance requirements and required massive and expensive deployments that most customer could not afford.
Disaggregating packet broker hardware and software provides the following key benefits:
Enhanced visibility resulting from modern platforms with superior performance that ensures line-rate connectivity and avoids packet loss of critical data
Improved network staff productivity though a unified, modern and agile packet broker software deployed on all platforms with a wide range of feature set
Superior quality geared by the reliability of mass production hardware manufacturing and the simplified R&D and QA software vs. hardware processes
Alignment to customer requirements and budget constraints through a wide range of hardware options available in the market, scaling from the smallest to the most powerful packet broker platforms
Cost reduction enabled by innovation in switches and CPU platforms as well as the economy of scale of mass production
While industry analyst firms (see EMA Next-Generation Network Packet Broker: Disaggregated and White Box Network Packet Broker report – Aug 2018, page 17) indicate the market trend and preference of hardware and software disaggregation, legacy vendors such as IXIA, NetScout and Gigamon managed to achieve this goal only in the basic aggregation functionality available on white box switches. Gaining the full benefits of disaggregation, would require an entire rewrite of the advanced product code on CPU platforms, a challenging task from both technology and business perspectives, and it is questionable if they will ever be able to go through this paradigm shift.
Shlomo Gurfinkel, the former VP Engineering at NetOptics (acquired by IXIA), was the first to identify the benefits of disaggregated and white box packet brokers, when he founded CGS Tower Networks back in 2014, to deliver the next generation packet brokers with pure and full disaggregation of packet broker software on white box switches, CPU appliances and virtual environments. According to the EMA report, 29% have already deployed disaggregated packet brokers, most probably just the basic aggregation functionality, and 32% plan to do so in the next 12 months. Chances are that 2019 will be noted as the tipping point where customers shift from the legacy proprietary packet brokers to the next generation white box switches and CPU based packet brokers. Stay tuned.