The Switch economy – according to us!

Large vendors like Cisco, Juniper, Foundry and Force10 create most of their hardware and software (sometimes even chip!) designs by themselves and usually don’t share any information about these designs with the outside world (and if so – only on a “need to know” basis).

On the other hand there’s a whole ecosystem around independent companies focusing on isolated tasks of the design and production process. These are usually divided into four major groups:

Semiconductor Manufacturer

Semiconductor manufacturers provide all the necessary components and accompanying reference designs which are used in todays networking equipment. The components they provide range from PHYs to Switch Fabrics, RAM and Processors.

Most of the parts they provide are standard components which are used in every brand and type of equipment but they also offer customized chips if there should be a need for it.

For example: AppliedMicro, Broadcom, Marvell, Vitesse, EZchip

ODM – Original Design Manufacturer

An ODM takes components and accompanying reference designs from chip designers like Broadcom or Marvel and puts them together in a working fashion. The result of this process is a hardware design, reference firmware and development kit which then can be used by other companies to produce a product.

ODMs hardly ever sell finished products by themselves.

For example: Accton, Delta Networks

OEM – Original Equipment Manufacturer

An OEM uses complete product designs from either an ODM or OBM and produces finished units which then can be sold by the OBM.

This includes setting up a production chain, doing first test runs, verifying the test units and if everything works out fine, doing the actual production.

For example: Foxconn, Accton, Delta Networks

OBM – Original Brand Manufacturer

An OBM tasks an OEM with the production of units based on either inhouse or ODM-supplied designs. It usually modifies the firmware to match the brand and management interfaces people are used to by the given brand. The OBM has to take care of the (aesthetic) design of the chassis of the units, the packaging, support processes, firmware maintenance, manuals, vendor network, etc. so it is the company which is usually most visible to end users.

For example: Linksys, Dell, D-Link, EdgeCore (subsidiary of Accton), SMC (subsidiary of Accton)

Summing it up

The majority of the semi-professional switches these days, for example from Dell or Linksys, are based on reference designs from Accton or Delta Networks. Our trusty 3com 3870 for example was designed by Accton. This means that there’s hardly any deviation between the different brands and different switches from different brands/vendors might even have a completely identical hardware design! When developing a third party operating system this is an excellent starting point since you can cover a large amount of device families without investing any additional development time.


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