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Nokia, Dell, and Apstra to Work with Microsoft on New Open-source Sonic Contributions

May 13, 2020 / Rukhsar Dhotekar
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  • Nokia, Dell Technologies, and Apstra announced new open source SONiC operating system contributions today at the Open Compute Project (OCP) Virtual Summit.

  • Dell Technologies and Apstra today announced new lifecycle SONiC support targeting enterprise customers that aims to make it easier for them to deploy and manage the open source networking technologies.

  • Other innovations including machine-learning based monitoring for SONiC, smart NICs using SONiC, and SONiC on WANs.


Microsoft contributed the Linux-based Software for Open Networking in the Cloud (SONiC) to OCP in 2016. It now has 50 contributing member companies. And over the past four years the open source operating system has become increasingly popular among hyperscale clouds. More than 10 clouds and major enterprises have adopted SONiC, and Microsoft Azure “has moved to 100% Sonic, achieving a more secure, reliable, and available network as part of this,” said Microsoft Distinguished Engineer David Maltz during an OCP Virtual Summit keynote.


Nokia today said it’s working with Microsoft on SONiC and making “significant development investments in the data center networking space.” This includes a new chassis-based SONiC implementation. The telecom equipment maker didn’t provide additional details.

 

Target, Comcast Turn to SONiC


While huge cloud providers and hyperscale data center operators have been the early SONiC adopters, a growing number of enterprises are using SONiC in their data centers, Maltz said. “At last year’s keynote, I made the statement that SONiC was ready for enterprise adoption,” he said. “We’ve seen an awful lot of progress on that front over the past year.” This includes Target, Comcast, and eBay, he added.


One of the challenges that enterprises face as they look to adopt technologies like SONiC is that large cloud providers like Microsoft, we have networking teams on staff who can manage the full lifecycle of a project like adopting and deploying Sonic, but small enterprises may not have a dedicated networking team.

-David Maltz


To this end Dell Technologies and Apstra today announced new lifecycle SONiC support targeting enterprise customers that aims to make it easier for them to deploy and manage the open source networking technologies.

 

Dell, Apstra Add SONiC Support


Dell was one of the original vendors that helped develop SONiC with Microsoft. Since then it has contributed ongoing Linux kernel updates and security patches to the open source effort along with switching platforms that support SONiC, among its other contributions.


Today at the OCP Virtual Summit, Dell rolled out Enterprise SONiC Distribution by Dell Technologies. This further integrates SONiC into Dell’s PowerSwitch Open Networking hardware and includes commercial-grade services and technical support.


“First, we’re adding incremental resources dedicated to making contributions to SONiC and giving those back to the community,” said Tom Burns, SVP and GM of Dell Technologies Integrated Products and Solutions business, in a video statement during the Microsoft keynote. “Secondly, we’re going to offer a SONiC distribution, combined with the Dell EMC portfolio. Simply put, we bring the best of innovation around open source with the customer experience of Dell Technologies.”


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SONiC + Intent-Based Networking


Additionally, intent-based networking (IBN) startup Apstra extended its enterprise SONiC support, teaming up with Dell and deepening its integration with the open source software. This includes adding Apstra Operating System (AOS) support for SONiC devices including leaf, spine, and super spine data center network architecture. Apstra also supports SONiC devices within an AOS managed fabric. And because the latest version of SONiC supports protocols that are critical to the enterprise space, such as EVPN and VXLAN, Apstra now also supports these capabilities.


In an earlier interview Apstra CEO Mansour Karam said these new capabilities will open up SONiC to the enterprise market and allow Fortune 500 and Global 2000 customers to benefit from open networking. “We are seeing an uptick in community activity with hundreds of developers being deployed on SONiC — essentially taking the SONiC project to the next level in terms of functionality and enterprise-class support — and we’ve certainly taken notice,” he said.


SONiC, when coupled with Apstra’s intent-based networking, can simplify enterprise data center network management using automation, which also reduces costs, he added. “When SONiC is managed by Apstra, you get the whole benefit of the intent-based approach. You are no longer worried about the specifics of that operating system and customers can essentially deploy SONiC with very little learning curve.”

 

What’s Next?


Looking ahead, Maltz said he expects several advancements to SONiC and its use cases over the next year. This includes using SONiC in edge deployments for 5G networks, a SONiC-based load balancer, and using Kubernetes to manage SONiC. “Kubernetes is a great, broadly used platform deploying a lot of online cloud services,” he said. Plus, developers are already familiar with Kubernetes, so this provides them a tool that they already know to manage SONiC running on network switches. This will enable “you to deploy new containers to those switches to innovate faster, more safely, and using a framework that your engineers are already used to,” he explained.


Other innovations including machine-learning based monitoring for SONiC, smart NICs using SONiC, and SONiC on WANs.


“Rather than running it up onto some of the biggest switches in the network, we’re taking it down on the individual servers, using SONiC as a management platform through smart NICs, providing flexible ways of offloading network transformation from the server to the smart NIC, but yet still managing that smart NIC as if it was a network switch,” Maltz said.


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