Well, folks, the replies have certainly been interesting. I did get my answer, which seems to be “no one cares”, which, in turn, explains why network equipment manufacturers give very little to no attention to this problem. A point of clarification is I’m talking about the problem in the context of operating a data center with cabinet racks, not a telecom closet with 2 post racks.
Let me just say from the get go that no one is making toolless rails a priority to the point of shutting vendors out of the evaluation process. I am not quite sure why that assumption was made by at least a few folks. With that said, when all things being equal or fairly equal, which they rarely are, that’s when the rails come in as a factor.
We operate over 1000 switches in our data centers, and hardware failures that require a switch swap are common enough where the speed of swap starts to matter to some extent. We probably swap a switch or two a month. Furthermore, those switches several of you referenced, which run for 5+ years are not the ones we use. I think you are thinking of the legacy days where you pay $20k plus for a top of rack switch from Cisco, and then sweat that switch until it dies of old age. I used to operate exactly like that in my earlier days. This does not work for us for a number of reasons, and so we don’t go down that path.
We use Force10 family Dell switches which are basically Broadcom TD2+/TD3 based switches (ON4000 and ON5200 series) and we run Cumulus Linux on those, so swapping hardware without swapping the operating system for us is quite plausible and very much possible. We just haven’t had the need to switch away from Dell until recently after Cumulus Networks (now Nvidia) had a falling out with Broadcom and effectively will cease support for Broadcom ASICs in the near future. We have loads of network config automation rolled out and very little of it is tied to anything Cumulus Linux specific, so there is a fair chance to switch over to Sonic with low to medium effort on our part, thus returning to the state where we can switch hardware vendors with fairly low effort. We are looking at Nvidia (former Mellanox) switches which hardly have any toolless rails, and we are also looking at all the other usual suspects in the “white box” world, which is why I asked how many of you care about the rail kit and I got my answer: “very little to not at all”. In my opinion, if you never ask, you’ll never get it, so I am asking my vendors for toolless rails, even if most of them will likely never get there, since I’m probably one of the very few who even brights that question up to them. I’d say network equipment has always been in a sad state of being compared to, well, just about any other equipment and for some reason we are all more or less content with it. May I suggest you all at least raise that question to your suppliers even if you know full well the answer is “no”. At least it will start showing the vendors there is demand for this feature.
On the subject of new builds. Over the course of my career I have hired contractors to rack/stack large build-outs and a good number of them treat your equipment the same way they treat their 2x4s. They torque all the screws to such a degree that when you have to undo that, you are sweating like a pig trying to undo one screw, eventually stripping it, so you have to drill that out, etc, etc. How is that acceptable? I’m not trying to say that every contractor does that, but a lot do to the point that that matters. I have no interest in discussing how to babysit contractors so they don’t screw up your equipment.
I will also concede that operating 10 switches in a colo cage probably doesn’t warrant considerations for toolless rails. Operating 500 switches and growing per site?.. It slowly starts to matter. And when your outlook is expansion, then it starts to matter even more.
Thanks to all of you for your contribution. It definitely shows the perspective I was looking for.
Special thanks to Jason How-Kow, who linked the Arista toolless rails (ironically we have Arista evals in the pipeline and I didn’t know they do toolless, so it’s super helpful)