SONiC builds muscle for enterprise-network service in 2023

Startups Aviz Networks and Hedgehog lead commercial support and innovation for the open-source network operating system Software for Open Networking in the Cloud, hoping to attract large enterprises.

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The coming year could be a very big one for the open-source network operating system SONiC as it garners start-up support and increasing interest from major networking vendors.

The Linux-based Software for Open Networking in the Cloud decouples network software from the underlying hardware and lets it run on hundreds of switches and ASICs from multiple vendors while supporting a full suite of network features such as Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), remote direct memory access (RDMA), QoS, and Ethernet/IP. 

It was developed and then open-sourced by Microsoft, which in April turned the project over to the Linux Foundation and its 450,000 developers. The vendor community supporting SONiC has been growing, too, and includes Dell, Arista, Nokia, Alibaba, Comcast, Cisco, Broadcom, Juniper Apstra, Edgecore, Innovium, Nvidia-Mellanox, Celetica and VMware.

“SONiC adoption will significantly outpace the overall market with growth in the coming years,” said Alan Weckel, an analyst with the 650 Group, which predicts that worldwide SONiC revenue will exceed $5 billion by 2026.

“We will see two approaches to SONiC,” Weckel said. “The first and more common one will be enterprises using SONiC in combination with branded boxes from Arista, Cisco, Dell, and Juniper to get their feet wet and benefit from SONiC without huge risk.”

The second will be more of a pure-play SONiC, where it is installed on white-box switches and the existing network is replaced with SONiC, a model Weckel said would be viewed as “as a true replacement of branded vendor infrastructure. There are a lot of cloud automation pieces in SONiC that enterprises can use to complement existing vendors, which is why the first path will be more common.”

Startups Aviz and Hedgehog embrace SONiC

Two startups, Aviz Networks and Hedgehog, have increased SONiC’s momentum recently by promising to deliver enterprise-grade support for the NOS.

In September, Aviz rolled out Open Networking Enterprise Suite (ONES), the first offering in what it says will be a suite of software to manage and support SONiC networks.

“The idea with ONES is, for the first time, to bring the tools enterprise customers can use to for multi-vendor orchestration, visibility, assurance, and 24x7 support in a SONiC network,” said Vishal Shukla, co-founder and CEO of Aviz. 

From its SONiC-based controller, ONES supports zero-touch provisioning and configuration validation. It includes SONiC configuration templates for data-center leaf/spine configurations and supports a range of standard networking technologies such as EVPN, VxLAN, and BGP.

“We can automatically apply a configuration and validate that configuration and verify that, for example, BGP indeed came up,” Shukla said. “And if there is an error, we can tell you what it is, fix it, or report it.”

ONES compiles a network's hardware and software inventory by gathering telemetry from switches. It supports vendor NOSes such as NVIDIA Cumulus Linux, Arista EOS, and Cisco NX-OS, as well as switches that utilize standard OpenConfig telemetry, Shukla said. “We can then see network traffic and performance metrics as well as detect any anomalies and issue alerts,” he said.

For its part, Hedgehog is targeting big enterprises looking to support and manage Kubernetes containers in a SONiC-based networking environment. 

“Our design goal is to make it nearly as easy to deploy your cloud native workload wherever you want to deploy it via an open network fabric that’s as easy as it is today to deploy it to AWS or Google Cloud. And we enable you to choose the deployment architecture that's optimal for your workload,” said Mark Austin, founder and CEO of Hedgehog.

“SONiC gives enterprises the break from vendor lock-in the networking space, and we fully automate it with cloud-native tool chain Kubernetes so that businesses can use existing cloud-native infrastructure, processes and tools, and you're breaking out of vendor lock-in the cloud as well,” Austin said.

The key to Hedgehog’s offering is its deployment of the Kubernetes control plane via SONiC, according to Mike Dvorkin, CTO of Hedgehog. 

“The first thing Hedgehog does is clean up and modularize SONiC and make it really easy to consume,” Dvorkin said. “Then we combine SONiC switches, smart NICs, and servers into a network fabric. And we use Kubernetes’ control plane to manage that.” So rather than build its own fabric-management technology, Hedgehog relies on the Kubernetes control plane to deploy, schedule, and operate distributed, cloud-native applications.

“Turning a network of switches, smartNICs, and service nodes into a Kubernetes cluster allows us to treat the network as a bunch of distributed applications. They can be routing protocols, utility functions, observability probes, proxies, API gateways, policy enforcers, log collection agents, or debug bots,” Dvorkin said.

The Kubernetes platform is becoming the de-facto way modern applications deal with cloud infrastructure, including compute, storage, networking, GPU, and DPU resources, he said.

According to the company, Hedgehog can help deliver automation, edge-based resources, and advanced applications such as AI workloads.

Both Austin and Dvorkin have strong ties to Cisco. Austin was the head of growth for Cisco’s Automation Strategy and Internet for the Future business, and Dvorkinn was a distinguished Cisco engineer co-creator of Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure technology. He also founded data-center switch developer Insieme, which Cisco famously spun back into the company.

SONiC potential in large enteprises

Both Hedgehog and Aviz have high-end enterprises in their sights and aim to address some of SONiC’s challenges, experts say, including lack of support for the NOS.

“One of the main challenges that enterprises face when adopting SONiC is the support gap. Enterprises have limited financial and engineering resources compared to hyperscalers and may not be able to manage the full lifecycle of a project like SONiC,” said Sameh Boujelbene, vice president, Campus and Data Center Switch Ethernet with the Dell’Oro Group. 

“We have witnessed several attempts from various incumbents to solve these supportability issues. However, what the ecosystem truly needed is a neutral entity to fill in that support gap,” Boujelbene said. Aviz and Hedgehog can help bridge that gap and increase adoption of SONiC in the enterprise, she said.

So much so that Dell’Oro predicts that by 2026, nearly 10% of the switches deployed in enterprise networks will be running SONiC, Boujelbene said.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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