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30 Innovative Brands of the Year 2021

In Conversation with Tom Inglese, Vice-President, Whitebox Solutions Business Unit: ‘The whitebox is the future of network design and our Whitebox Solutions give our customers a rock-solid platform on which to layer their own innovations.’

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“Our brand represents our credibility, quality and reputation. It gives a customer a valid reason to consider us before turning elsewhere”

Whitebox Solutions is an offering of Lanner USA—a recognized industry leader focused on high-performance switching, advanced security, and hyperscale network computing solutions.

By leveraging the design and manufacturing expertise of the company, combined with the extensive experience in the networking and telecom domain, Tom Inglese, the Vice-President of Whitebox Solutions BU, advocated going beyond the customized solutions that Lanner was well-known for. He pushed for building standardized equipment building blocks on which disaggregated networks of the future would be based. This bold venture within the company was called Whitebox Solutions which is now an independent unit within Lanner as of the start of this year and an engine of its future growth.

Tom Inglese: Interview Excerpt

Q. What exactly is a whitebox? And what are the major issues addressed by your Whitebox Solutions?

It may sound cliché, but the whitebox is the future of network design. For far too long, advances in the network and telecom field have been based on proprietary silicon as well as custom designs dedicated to specific functions in the network. While it had its run, there are some problems with this approach from the customers’ perspective.

Firstly, it has meant a virtual lock-in for service providers who are beholden to the network equipment makers they initially signed up with. And this lock-in is not just from a cost perspective but also capabilities and feature roadmap perspective.

Secondly, it is a barrier for smaller upstart companies that want to play in the space, since the costs and the walled-garden approach to scaling up are prohibitive for companies that are not large enough to invest in that scale upfront. In other words, this architecture stifles free innovation.

In the last few years, a new set of customers have emerged from Internet companies (like Google or Facebook) and telecom operators (like AT&T and Verizon), seeking to streamline both their network design and their procurement of IT hardware. For example, with a standardized “box” such as a Universal Customer Premise Equipment (uCPE) based on merchant silicon, an SD-WAN can be deployed as a virtual network function (VNF) running on that uCPE, augmented by other network functions (such as routing, firewall, and other VNFs) running on the same generic hardware the uCPE provides. And depending on the functionality required and the “horsepower” of the uCPE hardware, you could have different types of network equipment (or more accurately, functions) based on the same bare-metal hardware. And the ability to mix and match as well as chain VNFs, this opens up opportunities for a complete product line that goes from low-cost/low-performance to higher-cost and extreme performance depending on the requirements, while not changing the functionality available for the products in the product line.

The recent trend towards network virtualization has only reinforced the momentum of this shift to whiteboxes.

In summary, whiteboxes allow you to take a domain like networking, which is traditionally a rigid and closed environment and create Disaggregated Network Infrastructure. A win for competition, a win for innovation, and most definitely a win for our customers!

Q. Why, in your view, was it important to brand this product and what is your brand strategy?

In my view, a brand goes beyond a memorable logo and a pithy tag line. Yes, sure, those things help too, but at the core, what is memorable about a brand is the impression it leaves on our customers and defines what they can expect from us.

I see our brand as our credibility, quality, reputation — something that gives a customer a valid reason to consider us before turning elsewhere. We (Lanner USA) are already well-known for several decades for the quality and reliability of what we offer. Our Whitebox Solutions brand symbolizes that and makes the conversation with the customer go beyond just price and checklist features they are looking for in a product. With our brand, they not only get the features and specs they are looking for, but they also identify with the fact that it is a promise that will be kept.

In addition, our brand strategy has other elements such as standardized model numbering and order configuration for the comprehensive options available with a single whitebox system, homologation across different geographies, common certifications, a complete platform software suite, etc. The idea is when you buy a whitebox from us, it is ready to go. All of the “productization” work is done a priori with no NRE costs, no Minimum Order Quantities (MOQ), while still letting the customer add their branding and bezels to the hardware if they choose to.

Q. What made you pick this specific brand, which I guess is also the text along with the graphic?

Yes, it’s not only the text but also the visual. Of course, our mission is to provide whitebox solutions, but in text, that can also be a generic way of referring to this segment of the industry, not just our products. Therefore, we came up with a creative logo that was not just aesthetically pleasing but also showed exactly what it’s meant to do for customers —innovative products that let them build innovations of their own on top, with a very short time to profit. And the name and the logo are pretty straightforward: what you see is what you get.

Q. There are other major players in this segment. How do you distinguish the offerings your brand represents and make them stand out from the rest?

Well, as is common with any disruption that involves standardization, incumbents try hard to not to get with the program, since it means they would lose their proprietary chokehold. We, too, have seen the traditional network and telco equipment providers (so called “black-box” providers) come out grudgingly in favor of their own so-called “whitebox solutions” by opening up only some parts of their design, or what we refer to as “gray-box” solutions. While it’s a good start, it’s not enough and our customers know that. They demand the standardized solutions we provide and in fact, we have had success with tier-one design wins as well as endorsements and certifications that have set us apart from the other players who are trying to just ride the whitebox wave with minor variants of their existing portfolio.

Q. How do you market your services?

Our website www.whiteboxsolution.com and its accompanying “e-store” at whiteboxsolution.shop are the easiest ways for our customers to get more information, pricing, marketing and technical collateral and even order small quantities of whitebox systems for evaluation with nothing more than a credit card. No minimum order quantities, no commitments. This allows our customers to not only evaluate the capabilities and performance of our whitebox hardware but also run their software, including open-source software to test out real-world functionality and performance.

Q. Do you have any new services ready to be launched?

We just recently got our trademark registration approved for Whitebox Solutions and are planning to make a major push with it as soon as the pandemic is behind us and we can present this at trade-shows and other events. Until then, we will continue to launch new products in the Whitebox Solutions line through online means including webinars, blogs, and Vlogs that explain their capabilities and direct customer engagement.

Q. What are your trajectories for the next five years?

We strongly believe that the future of networking is in disaggregated infrastructure and services. The use cases around SD-WAN, Edge Computing, and the accelerated push towards 5G microservices only serve to reinforce this. With the recently launched products in our Whitebox Solutions product line, which is being expanded every quarter, customers get the latest in processor and switch technologies as well as a portable path they can migrate designs on when their current products are End-of-Lifed (EOL). Further, over the next few years, we are investing in a broad ecosystem of software partners who will provide production-ready software for the customers that need it, which has been pre-integrated in and validated on our Whitebox Solutions.

Tom Inglese: A Visionary Leader

Tom Inglese serves as VP of the Whitebox Solutions Business Unit. A veteran of the industry, Tom has been with the parent company (Lanner USA) for nearly four years and spearheaded the business development efforts to open up new markets for the company.

“We strongly believe that the future of networking is in disaggregated infrastructure and services enabled by our products. The use cases around SD-WAN, Edge Computing, and the accelerated push towards 5G microservices only serve to reinforce this.”