Dell Adds Distribution of Open Source SONiC Network Operating System

Dell Technologies this week announced it will make available a distribution of the open source SONiC network operating system (NOS) originally developed by Microsoft available to its customers.

Originally developed for use within Microsoft Azure, SONiC is based on a set of containerized services deployed on top of Linux. It is now being developed under the auspices of the Open Compute Project (OCP), which brings an open source methodology to building IT infrastructure.

Dell announced at the OCP Virtual Summit it is making available Enterprise SONiC Distribution by Dell Technologies, a curated instance of SONiC that can be deployed on-premises or in the cloud, alongside other NOS platforms it currently supports.

Historically, NOS platforms have tended to be both monolithic and proprietary. However, as networking evolves in the age of DevOps it’s clear developers need more control over network services, says Drew Schulke, vice president for Dell EMC Networking. Achieving that goal requires a programmable NOS platform that makes various services available via application programming interfaces (APIs).

Schulke says the rise of the modern NOS platform is already driving conversations in the enterprise about where network operations teams will fit within the context of a larger DevOps team.

For several years now, Dell Technologies has been positioning Dell EMC PowerSwitch Open Networking hardware in on-premises IT environments as an alternative to rival platforms from Cisco Systems and Juniper Networks. The addition of SONiC to that portfolio provides Dell with an open source NOS that has already been proven to scale in one of the largest cloud computing environments available—SONiC has been deployed on more than 40,000 switches in the Microsoft Azure cloud.

At the same time, Schulke notes Microsoft and the rest of the open source SONiC community are committed to delivering future innovations. For example, Apstra, a provider of network automation tools, announced this week its support for Enterprise SONiC Distribution by Dell Technologies.

Schulke says Enterprise SONiC Distribution by Dell Technologies furthers the disaggregation of networking hardware and software in the data center. IT organizations want to be able to mix and match network software and infrastructure in the same way they acquire operating systems for servers. That approach reduces the chances of being locked into a single vendor, while also providing more flexibility when it comes to upgrading the networking environment.

As networking increasingly becomes software-defined it’s clear that developers will be employing APIs to manage networks as code in on-premises IT environments in much the same way they do infrastructure in the public cloud. In fact, arguably the biggest challenge is not so much the technology anymore but rather the distinct cultures that have arisen around networking and application development over the last several decades. NetOps teams are not likely to want to cede total control over network services to a DevOps team unless they are part of that DevOps team.

Regardless of who ultimately is responsible for managing the network going forward, the one thing that is for certain is the divide between DevOps and NetOps is about to narrow considerably.

Mike Vizard

Mike Vizard is a seasoned IT journalist with over 25 years of experience. He also contributed to IT Business Edge, Channel Insider, Baseline and a variety of other IT titles. Previously, Vizard was the editorial director for Ziff-Davis Enterprise as well as Editor-in-Chief for CRN and InfoWorld.

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