Cisco might ONIE up

Company says, then doesn't, that Nexus 9K supports open source boot loader

Cisco is preparing to open up its Nexus 9000 switches for further programmability, perhaps even supporting a popular open source tool for booting them up.

A Cisco white paper posted on the company’s website and then withdrawn last week stated that its Nexus 9000 switches, in standalone NX-OS mode, can now support the Open Network Install Environment (ONIE). ONIE is a network boot loader to install software, including operating systems from multiple vendors, on bare metal Ethernet network switches.

ONIE is a component of the Open Compute Platform project, an open source server and switch hardware effort spearheaded by Facebook. Cumulus Networks, a developer of a Linux network operating system for bare metal switches, contributed ONIE to OCP, and ONIE is a key component for disaggregating switch hardware and software.

Cisco joined OCP last fall, 16 months after pointing out its weaknesses.

Network World obtained a copy of the withdrawn Cisco whitepaper, entitled “Cisco Nexus 9000 Series Switches: Integrate Programmability into Your Data Center.” In it, Cisco stated that its Nexus 9000 switches, in standalone NX-OS mode, can now support ONIE as a boot install option for programmability:

For some organizations, Cisco® Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) will be the solution of choice, but other organizations will want to take advantage of the programmability offered by Cisco Nexus 9000 Series Switches in Cisco NX-OS standalone mode, which is the focus of this document…The Nexus 9000 Series also supports the Open Network Install Environment (ONIE)…ONIE finds a Cisco NX-OS Software installer server over a Layer 2 or 3 connection.

When asked about the whitepaper, Frank D’Agostino, senior director of technical marketing and solutions engineering in Cisco’s Insieme Networks Business Unit, said it was posted in error and resubmitted with the correct version here. The new version has no mention of ONIE or ONIE support on the Nexus 9000.

Also, the replaced whitepaper mentioning ONIE did not state anything about ONIE bringing up a switch running an operating system other than NX-OS. It only stated steps on how to “automatically” bring up a switch in Cisco NX-OS mode.

But analysts and other observers say the whitepaper indicates that Cisco’s not only been working with ONIE, its switches actually support it. And that means the Nexus 9000 has the ability to run an operating system other than Cisco’s standalone NX-OS and its ACI upgrade.

Time will tell if Cisco allows it. It appears ONIE's a potential Nexus 9000 feature, but no beta or any other release is in customer hands, according to this post.

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