The SONiC network operating system (NOS) and its associated ecosystem is one of the most intriguing enterprise IT stories to come along in some time. It started off as an in-house Microsoft project aimed at creating a modern, container-based, and non-proprietary NOS to power the company’s own cloud endeavors, including Azure. Last year, Microsoft handed over the keys to the Linux Foundation and SONiC become a foundation open-source project.
This shift has led many to believe that enterprise distributions of SONiC will quickly attract businesses seeking a lower cost but well-proven technology that would replace today’s proprietary and expensive data center networks.
Let’s look at some of the challenges the SONiC community faces and how they’re smartly positioning themselves to be the first successful open NOS for widespread enterprise adoption.
Generating enterprise trust in SONiC
A major hurdle for the SONiC community is to overcome concerns that enterprise IT leadership may have when it comes to open-source solutions. This is especially true considering the network is the foundation for all infrastructure built on top of it. In the past, other open-source network operating systems have come and gone with little success in the enterprise market. The SONiC community must work to differentiate itself from past open-source NOS failures.
The good news is that SONiC already has a leg-up on many of the concerns that will be raised by IT decision makers. The first is the fact that SONiC has steadily gained support from the technology community. Over the past year, the SONiC project has attracted many (some perhaps, begrudgingly) of the biggest names in enterprise networking including Cisco, Arista, Juniper, and Broadcom. Additionally, Gartner VP analyst Andrew Learner recently proclaimed that “by 2025, 30% of organizations that operate large data center networks (more than 250 switches) will run SONiC in some portion of their production environments.” That’s less than two years away and a ten-fold increase of enterprise SONiC use today.
But more importantly, the SONiC community can easily differentiate itself from struggling open network operating systems as it already has a proven track record with large-scale deployments in cloud, hyperscale and traditional enterprise data centers, including Microsoft, Alibaba, and Target. This allows the SONiC supporters to point to these types of deployments and basically say “if it’s good enough for them, it’s probably good enough for you.”
The final two missing pieces of the SONiC enterprise IT adoption puzzle are also starting to fall into place. The first piece is to deliver a way to easily manage and orchestrate SONiC-powered networks at scale. The second is the ability for IT shops to reach out to enterprise-grade support when needed.
From an orchestration standpoint, new tech startups such as Aviz and Hedgehog emerged in 2022 with the purpose of providing ways to deploy and manage SONiC data center fabrics. Even more significant, Juniper’s acquisition of vendor-agnostic intent-based network (IBN) developer Apstra in 2021 and BeyondEdge announcing SONiC support for their Verity IBN platform show that traditional network vendors are ready to provide SONiC-powered businesses with orchestration and support capabilities that match anything on the market today. This creates an ecosystem that not only delivers simplified data center/cloud fabric management for businesses that may lack network expertise – but it also gives companies the option of enterprise-grade SONiC distribution support from network vendors they already know and trust.
Is the SONiC hype train real?
While hype, predictions, and vendor enthusiasm doesn’t always translate into market momentum, SONiC seems to tick all the right boxes. It’s a production-proven technology that’s supported by the biggest names in the technology industry with a rapidly growing ecosystem that delivers improved orchestration and management with trustworthy support models. While no one can say for certain if the hype will fully meet expectations, SONiC is certainly off to a tremendous start.