Open for Business: SONiC brings an Open Source Approach to Open Networking

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When Dell introduced its Open Networking initiative nearly five years ago, we did so with a very simple premise in mind: Give the customer choice. By eliminating the monolithic, proprietary networking stack through hardware and software disaggregation, we would give the customer the ability to build the network they need today, with the agility and flexibility to go wherever tomorrow leads them.

As we’ve expanded our ecosystem of partners, it’s become increasingly important to us to expand our support for rapid innovation to meet the needs of customers in the context of ever-changing business requirements and fast-and-furious advancements across the spectrum of enterprise tech.

In just about every corner of the tech industry, the open source community has been a key driver of rapid innovation, and as such, Dell EMC Networking has embraced open source network operating system (NOS) initiatives. In doing so, we are supporting rapid innovation and advancement of open networking across the industry, and giving customers even more choice.

We’re not the only company, of course, that recognizes the value of open source. Microsoft, with its vast array of cloud-delivered services, founded an open source effort called Software for Open Networking in the Cloud (SONiC) within the Open Compute Project. Microsoft, of course, is one of the largest hyper-scale data center operators in the world. Operating at that scale provides them with the ability to address a number of challenges beyond what a traditional networking stack could address and they also pursued their own approach to open source networking with SONiC.

Based upon Debian Linux, SONiC allows standard Linux utilities to run on top of it. And as the first NOS to leverage containers as an integral part of the software stack, it supports the ability to deploy complex applications with minimal disruption to other applications running on the switch. Underpinning SONiC is its use of a switch abstraction interface (SAI) to mitigate hardware-based dependencies, maintaining a level of openness down to the ASIC on a physical switch. Dell EMC Networking has played an ongoing and important role in SAI, being the only switching vendor today to use SAI in all of its data center switching products.

Today, SONiC has matured and hardened to the point that it can power massive cloud-based platforms such as Microsoft Azure. In terms of SONiC’s applicability for a broader set of customers, there are a couple of use cases where SONiC seems to shine.

  • Spine-leaf architectures: SONiC is highly tested and well suited for Azure datacenters, which run on a spine-Leaf (CLOS) architecture, with Quagga BGP providing L3 services within SONiC. This has a number of benefits over the traditional three-tier network architecture, including allowing single chip devices of varying speeds to replace chassis-based switches, enabling a single protocol to manage the entire network, smaller routing tables, and more.
  • DevOps: The repeatable nature of CLOS architectures automatically demands DevOps centric support for any network OS. SONiC is capable of delivering it right-out-of-the-box. It delivers agility and flexibility through continuous integration/continuous development tools, and easy deployment automation through tools such as Ansible (see some examples of Dell EMC-developed and validated playbooks here).

Our support for SONiC begins with a list of certified Dell EMC platforms upon which specific versions of SONiC have been validated; with the added peace of mind provided by a credible vendor offering a class-leading global support model.

David A. Maltz, Distinguished Engineer, Azure Networking, Microsoft Corp. said: “Microsoft has been testing and hardening SONiC in our largest data centers supporting our most demanding workloads, and we believe this cloud experience differentiates SONiC from other open source NOS platforms. It’s exciting for Dell EMC to embrace SONiC and support its broader industry adoption. With SONiC as a validated option on Dell EMC Open Networking switches with a global support offering for Dell customers, we expect an increase in meaningful customer interactions and more productive conversations around use cases in the networking community.”

The bottom line? There is no single, solution that will meet the needs of every customer. This is why choice is so important, and why Dell EMC Open Networking has become such a force in the industry.  Dell EMC networking is committed to open networking and choice, and so we are proud to add support for SONiC to our offerings.

Whatever you choose, we’ve got you covered. Talk to your Dell EMC sales rep or technology partner about which solution makes the most sense for you and your organization.

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