Microsoft shifts SONiC development to the Linux Foundation

With the Linux Foundation in charge, Software for Open Networking in the Cloud could attract stronger enterprise interest for the open-source NOS.

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The enhancement and adoption of SONiC, the open-source network operating system, could accelerate now that its development has been given over to the the Linux Foundation, experts say.

Software for Open Networking in the Cloud had been overseen by Microsoft, which has now ceded that role to the Linux Foundation.

The shift could result in the scale and use of the NOS grow as the foundation provides a trusted hub for over 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 evolving specifications such as the Switch Abstraction Interface for routing and switching connectivity.

“The reason we made this change is because the Linux Foundation has been the center of gravity for the larger open source community—particularly in enterprise,” said Dave Maltz, Technical Fellow and corporate vice president of Microsoft Azure Networking.

“Look at all the projects that enterprises are building IoT systems on top of, for example. Many of those are homed in the Linux Foundation,” Maltz said.

“By bringing SONiC to the foundation we’re going to be participating in the same events, the same developer community having hackathons side by side with the folks who are building those enterprise IT environments that will both help our community understand more what the needs of the enterprise community are, as well as making them more familiar with SONiC. And so our belief is SONiC will then become much easier for enterprises to adopt and use,” Maltz said.

Microsoft developed the Linux-based NOS which decouples network software from the underlying hardware and lets it run on switches and ASICs from over 100 vendors.  It supports a full suite of network features including border gateway protocol (BGP), remote direct memory access (RDMA), QoS. 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 beneficial for the SONiC community, according to Brad Casemore, research vice president, Datacenter and Multicloud Networks for IDC. IDC forecasts that SONiC-based ethernet data-center switche revenue will be approximately $2.5 billion in 2025. That does not include SONiC campus switching, which is currently nascent, Casemore said.

“SONiC will gain exposure under the auspices of the Linux Foundation, helping it sustain and expand community engagement and contributions,” Casemore said.  “We should see SONiC continue to extend into new use cases.”

Casemore noted in a recent blog that SONiC has evolved considerably since its inception.

“Its growth has been nurtured by an increasing number of users, a vibrant open-source community, and a growing ecosystem of vendors. Another factor behind SONiC’s wider appeal is that many non-hyperscalers are seeking to emulate the best practices of hyperscalers, but they want to do so on theirown terms, with technologies and products adapted and suited to their environments and needs,” Casemore stated.

“In this regard, SONiC fits the bill, providing a Linux NOS that can be managed by the same automation and management tooling, if not the same teams, that manage Linux servers. The resulting benefits include tool consolidation and consistent operations across data-center infrastructure, which can result in lower capex costs and reduced operating costs,” Casemore wrote.

A number of SONiC customers such as Comcast, eBay are using SONiC to manage data center operations.

“Pretty much everyone who has a switch someplace, could be running Sonic on top of that switch and thereby taking that switch and including it in the same management systems that they’re using for their servers or get access to newer cutting-edge network-management platforms” Maltz said.

“SONiC also gives organizations the ability to mix and match the hardware while keeping a consistent software experience,” Maltz said. “This is really important especially in the  current environment where supply chain challenges where your network vendor may not have equipment available for you unless you place the order, literally 52 to 60 weeks ahead of time.”

Meanwhile, some barriers to adoption are falling. “One of the things that has been missing is a is company willing to write commercial support contracts for SONiC,” Maltz said.  “We now have multiple companies in the ecosystem that are offering that kind of paid support contract. We think that will make it much easier for enterprises to adopt.”

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