The switch/software disaggregation derby has begun.

Juniper Networks this week rolled out a switch based on hardware from the Open Compute Project designed to run its Junos network operating system software, and others. Juniper claims the OCX1100 is the first to combine OCP hardware design with an established vendor's operating system.

OCP is a Facebook initiated effort to develop low-cost open source hardware, such as servers and switches, to complement open source software.

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The OCX1100, which will be available the first quarter of 2015, is targeted at customers building large and massive scale data centers -- 10,000 servers and up, Juniper says -- with an "open, cost-effective, disaggregated" switching platform. Such customers include cloud builders, such as Web 2.0 and web-hosting companies, seeking ways to more efficiently build data center networks at scale, and at lower cost.

Some of these companies, like Google, have addressed this need with internally developed systems and white box switches. But these options are challenging for many other companies due to the level of resources required to develop, install and support custom solutions, Juniper says.

Combining Junos with OCP hardware removes the burden of support, installation and maintenance from cloud providers and places it squarely on the vendor -- in this case, Juniper. Juniper has not yet announced pricing for the OCX1100 hardware, but customers buying in large volumes will "be pleased," says Jonathan Davidson, senior vice president and general manager for Juniper's Security, Switching and Solutions Business Unit.

Smaller-volume purchases will be priced comparably to Juniper's internally designedtop-of-rack switches, Davidson says.

Disaggregated hardware and software platforms are coming into vogue in networking as customers look to break free from vendor lock-in and the high cost of tightly integrated and interdependent switch silicon and operating systems. Juniper's option is but one variation of the disaggregated platform, according to Gartner; others include vendor-designed switches running operating systems designed for white box and bare metal hardware, such as Cumulus Networks' Linux or Big Switch Networks' Switch Light -- Dell has embraced this approach. Another is software vendors such as VMware and Microsoft seeding certified and specified hardware with a network OS; and systems integrators incubating integrated and fully supported systems from sourced hardware and software.

Speculation has it that Arista Networks, and maybe Cisco, will follow suit with Juniper's implementation of allowing their network software to run on white box or bare metal hardware. Cisco recently joined OCP after criticizing the effort over a year ago.

Gartner says at least two other established vendors will adopt this "brite box" -- branded white box -- approach to data center switching by the end of 2015. Gartner believes brite and white box switching will account for more than 10% of global data center port shipments by 2018, from just under 4% in 2013.

Vendors that do so may be looking to emulate or shadow the strategy of Cumulus Networks, which is offering a Linux-based network operating system -- IPv4 and IPv6 routing, plus data center and network orchestration hooks -- to run on commodity network hardware. Cumulus says its strategy is complementary to the OCP open source hardware project, but none of Cumulus' currently supported hardware platforms are approved OCP hardware designs.

The one that is -- EdgeCore/Accton's AS5712-54X -- is listed as a future for Cumulus Linux. So current OCP compliance -- in addition to a network operating system, and technical service and support from an established vendor -- appears to be a key differentiator to Juniper's OCX1100 approach.

Cumulus says its hardware compatibility list is comprised of platforms that customers of all scales can acquire, either directly from the manufacturer or through resellers.

"Any platform that meets those goals we'll support," says JR Rivers, CEO and cofounder of Cumulus.

Juniper is working with original device manufacturer Alpha Networks on the OCX1100 hardware design. Alpha's OCP approved designs include a 48-port 10G SFP+ and 6-port 40G QSFP switch, and a 32-port 40G QSFP top-of-rack/aggregation switch.

Juniper says the OCX1100 design has been submitted to the OCP for review and that approval is expected by the time the switch is available for purchase.

Juniper says the OCX1100 runs an optimized version of Junos, based on Linux, and includes features required for deployment in Layer 3 networks. The OCX1100 also includes software interfaces and automation capabilities, such as Python scripting, native Puppet and Chefautomation installation, Junos software development kits, and Open Network Install Environment (ONIE) -- which was submitted to OCP by Cumulus -- to enable loading of third-party network operating systems.

Juniper says the OCX1100 hardware is capable of running any third party software from any vendor -- such as Cumulus Linux, Arista Networks EOS and Cisco NX-OS -- that decides to port their software to this OCP submitted hardware. But Juniper is confident that customers will prefer Junos, which Davidson says has "a 15-year head start" on currently available white box operating systems.

Davidson said Juniper will provide technical service and support for the OCX1100 hardware if it is running an operating system other than Junos, and will "work with customers as needed to troubleshoot any issues they are experiencing."