The improvement and adoption of SONiC, the open-source network operating system, could accelerate now that its development has been entrusted to the Linux Foundation, according to experts.
Software for open networking in the cloud had been overseen by Microsoft, which has now ceded that role to the Linux Foundation.
The change could lead to growth in the scale and use of the NOS, as the foundation provides a trusted hub for more than 450,000 developers to code, manage and advance open technology projects.
The Linux Foundation will focus on the software element of SONiC, while continuing to partner with the Open Compute Project for hardware developments and evolution of specifications such as the Switch Abstraction interface for routing and connectivity of switching.
“The reason we made this change is because the Linux Foundation has been the center of gravity for the wider open source community, especially in enterprise,” said Dave Maltz, Technical Fellow and Vice President of Microsoft. Azure Networking.
“Look at all the projects where companies are building IoT systems, for example. A lot of them are housed in the Linux Foundation,” Maltz said.
“By bringing SONiC to the foundation, we’ll be participating in the same events, the same community of developers hosting side-by-side hackathons with the people building these enterprise computing environments that will both help our community better understand the needs of the enterprise community are, while familiarizing them with SONiC, so we are confident that SONiC will then become much easier for enterprises to adopt and use,” said Maltz.
Microsoft developed the Linux-based NOS that decouples network software from underlying hardware and lets it run on switches and ASICs from over 100 vendors. It supports a full suite of networking features, including Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA), and Quality of Service. The SONiC community includes Dell, Arista, Nokia, Apstra, Alibaba, Comcast, Cisco, Broadcom, Juniper, Edgecore, Innovium, Nvidia-Mellanox and VMware.
Moving SONiC development to the Linux Foundation is a good move for SONiC and good for the SONiC community, according to Brad Casemore, research vice president, Datacenter and Multicloud Networks for IDC. IDC projects revenue from SONiC-based Ethernet data center switches to be about $2.5 billion in 2025. That doesn’t include SONiC campus switching, which is currently nascent, Casemore said.
“SONiC will gain visibility under the auspices of the Linux Foundation, helping it maintain and expand community engagement and contributions,” Casemore said. “We should see SONiC continue to expand into new use cases.”
Casemore noted in a recent blog post that SONiC has evolved significantly since its inception.
“Its growth has been fueled by a growing number of users, a vibrant open source community, and a growing ecosystem of vendors. Another factor driving SONiC’s broader appeal is that many non-hyperscalers seek to emulate hyperscaler best practices, but they want to do so on their own terms, with appropriate and responsive technologies and products. to their environments and needs,” Casemore said.
“In this regard, SONiC fits the bill, providing a Linux NOS that can be managed by the same automation and management tools, if not the same teams, that manage Linux servers. The resulting benefits include tool consolidation and consistent operations across the entire data center infrastructure, which can lead to reduced capital and operational costs,” Casemore wrote.
A number of SONiC customers such as Comcast, eBay use SONiC to manage data center operations.
“Almost anyone who has a Switch somewhere could run Sonic on top of that Switch and so take that Switch and include it in the same management systems that they use for their servers or access a newer edge network – management platforms,” Maltz said.
“SONiC also gives organizations the ability to mix and match hardware while maintaining a consistent software experience,” Maltz said. “This is really important, especially in today’s environment with supply chain challenges where your network provider may not have equipment available for you unless you place the order, literally 52 to 60 weeks in advance.”
Meanwhile, some barriers to adoption are falling. “One of the things that’s been missing is a company willing to write commercial support contracts for SONiC,” Maltz said. “We now have several companies in the ecosystem offering this type of paid support contract. We believe this will greatly facilitate enterprise adoption.
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