Back when Dell EMC was still just known as Dell, its networking business staked out a leadership position by becoming the first mainstream switch manufacturer to embrace bare-metal data center switching. Now it’s moving into the bare-metal campus switching market, too.
Dell disaggregated hardware and software in its data center switches, allowing network operators to choose which operating system (OS) they wanted to run on Dell’s hardware. It has partnered with several network OS vendors since then (Cumulus, Pica8, Big Switch, Pluribus) to give its customers software choice in their data center networks. Bare-metal switching is still a niche market, but it’s expanding.
Now Dell EMC is expanding its open networking portfolio into the campus networking world with the N3132PX-ON, a 32-port, multi-speed switch with support for 2.5 and 5 Gigabit Ethernet. This campus access switch, like Dell EMC’s data center switches, supports the Open Network Install Environment (ONIE), an open source technology that enables switch hardware to boot up a third-party network OS. However, as far as I know there is no developer of third-party campus switch OS software today, so a customer’s only option is to run Dell’s own OS on the box.
Campus switches have a very different set of software requirements than data center switches. They require port-based access control technologies, such as 802.1x support. They also require software for Power over Ethernet (PoE). Many enterprises look for switch stacking capabilities in these products, a feature that allows them to manage multiple switches as a single device. These are just a handful of features that network infrastructure teams require from campus switches.
The software requirements of data center and campus network switches are very different, and I don’t expect companies like Big Switch or Cumulus to come forward with a campus version of their software any time soon. It also remains to be seen whether enterprises have an appetite for bare-metal campus switching. Still, this is an interesting announcement for Dell EMC. Perhaps the company plans to offer a campus version of its OS10 software, a modular operating system for open networking devices that Dell announced a year ago.