As networking vendors of all sizes talk about the benefits of Software Defined Networking, it's important to remember that hardware still remains at the core of all networks.
Infonetics Research, now part of IHS Inc., is reporting that bare metal switches accounted for 11 percent of all data center ports shipped worldwide in 2014. By 2019, Infonetics is forecasting that approximately 12 million bare metal data center Ethernet switch ports will ship, representing just under a quarter of all data center ports shipped globally.
Bare metal switches are switches that are not locked into a specific network operating system. The move toward bare metal switches is being pushed forward in part by the Open Compute Project's networking effort, which got started in May 2013. Multiple vendors are embracing the open networking approach, including Juniper, HP and Dell.
A key enabler for bare metal switches is the Open Network Install Environment (ONIE), which enables different vendor operating systems to run on the same hardware device. At the recent Open Compute Project Summit, a new specification was announced, called the Switch Abstraction Interface (SAI), that provides a common API interface across network operating systems.
"Up till now, bare metal switching has been attractive mainly to the large cloud service providers (CSPs) like Google and Amazon, who provide their own switch software integrated into data center orchestration and management platforms," Cliff Grossner, research director for data center, cloud and SDN at Infonetics Research, said in a statement. "But with vendors such as Dell and HP jumping into the mix with branded bare metal switches, adoption of bare metal switching is going to accelerate as tier 2 CSPs and large enterprises endeavor to achieve the nimbleness demonstrated by Google."
Bare metal switches aren't the only area of data center switch port growth. Infonetics is also reporting that 25 Gigabit Ethernet (25 GbE) switch ports are expected to start shipping in the fourth quarter of 2015. Efforts to develop a 25 GbE specification kicked off in 2014 with the formation of the 25 Gigabit Ethernet Consortium in July.
Overall for 2014, Infonetics has sized the global data center network equipment market at $11.2 billion in 2014 for an 8 percent year-over-year gain.
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at Enterprise Networking Planet and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.