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Choosing the Right Disaggregate Hardware and NOS Combination: A Guide

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For decades, traditional networking has posed a significant challenge for organizations. The proprietary nature of networking hardware and software has made it difficult for businesses to customize their network infrastructure to fit their specific needs. This has resulted in limited flexibility, reduced innovation, and increased costs for organizations. However, with the advent of disaggregated networking, businesses are now able to break free from the limitations of traditional networking and gain more control and flexibility over their network infrastructure by separating the hardware from the software.

Despite the many advantages, disaggregate networking also presents its own set of challenges. One such challenge is the complexity involved in selecting the right combination of disaggregate switches/routers and network operating system (NOSes). This includes understanding the nuances of the various hardware and NOS options available, assessing the maturity level of different NOSes, and planning for the investment of time and resources required for internal IT teams.

Additionally, organizations must consider the available features of different NOSes and the specific use cases that they cater to. On the hardware side, while the availability of hardware components is generally better on the disaggregated networking side, hardware supply chain shortages, and potential interoperability issues remain significant challenges. In this blog, we will delve deeper into these challenges and provide practical insights and guidance to help organizations navigate the world of disaggregated networking successfully.

Enabling Your Adoption of Open Networking

While many organizations have considered open networking, a significant percentage are unsure how to begin their journey. Some conduct online research, interview various vendors, and find other ways to compare different switches/routers and NOS options, but may still be uncertain about the best way to proceed. Based on our experience, the most effective initial step towards open networking adoption is for organizations to evaluate their current business goals and reasons for wanting to adopt this model, followed by a review of hardware and NOS options that are most relevant to their specific industry. While several NOS vendors claim to excel in multiple areas, our experience indicates that this may only sometimes be the case. Some important features may be immature and still on the development roadmap. By identifying vendors that best align with the organization’s needs, IT teams can optimize their efforts and save valuable time.

The Multitude of NOS and Support Options

The selection of a network operating system (NOS) from various providers can be a challenging task for organizations, as it requires an in-depth understanding of various factors such as the maturity level of different NOSes, support levels provided by vendors, internal IT resources required for deployment and management, hardware interoperability, and total cost associated with implementation. The maturity level of different NOSes can vary significantly, and choosing the right NOS that is stable, secure, and meets the specific needs of the organization can be a daunting task.

Furthermore, the level of support offered by different vendors can also vary, and organizations need to be sure they have access to the required level of support to ensure the success of their deployment. The internal IT resources required for deployment can also be a significant challenge, as organizations need to ensure they have the necessary skills and knowledge to implement and manage the chosen NOS. Hardware interoperability is another significant factor to consider, as not all NOSes are compatible with all hardware platforms. Finally, the total cost associated with implementation can be high, and organizations need to be sure that they have considered all the associated costs, including licensing fees, training and implementation costs, and ongoing maintenance and support costs.

Several startups, such as Aviz Networks and Hedgehog, have emerged to address the challenges associated with open networking, including implementation, orchestration, optimization, and monitoring for open-source NOSes like SONiC. These companies recognize the lack of support and other industry challenges associated with open NOSes and aim to bridge the gap between the promise of open networking and the practical challenges that organizations face in deploying and managing a NOS in real-world scenarios. Downloading a free version of the open-source SONiC NOS is not yet a simple plug-and-play process. Those who attempt to build the source code on their own will quickly encounter significant obstacles, including missing scripts and unpredictable environmental variables. In addition, testing and running a PoC presents its own set of challenges, as it involves dealing with millions of lines of code that have been pieced together using a variety of languages, such as Python, Java, and C++. Vendors such as Edge-Core have released their own hardened version of SONiC that is more stable on their hardware platforms.

IP Infusion, SONiC, Pica8, Arrcus, Exaware, Capgemini, and DriveNets are among the leading NOSes, with each software solution (and in some cases, hardware/software bundle) designed to meet the unique needs of different industries, organizational sizes, budget requirements, and use cases.

Hardware Options

When it comes to open networking, selecting the right hardware is just as important as selecting the right NOS. The hardware includes switches, aggregation routers, disaggregated routers, and other network devices that form the foundation of the network infrastructure. Some of the top brands in the truly disaggregated networking space include Edge-Core and UfiSpace. Each industry and use case may require different hardware specifications and features to achieve optimal performance and efficiency. For example, data centers require high-density switches with high bandwidth and low latency, while telecom & ISPs may require routers with robust security and traffic management capabilities. Enterprises may require a mix of switches and routers that are suitable for their specific use case, such as supporting a hybrid cloud environment or enabling IoT devices. By selecting the right hardware for the right industry and use case, organizations can ensure that their network infrastructure is optimized for their specific needs, and that they can reap the benefits of open networking, such as flexibility, agility, and cost-effectiveness.

In addition to switches and routers, selecting the right optics, such as transceivers and DACs, is also crucial in open networking. The choice of optics can impact the performance and cost-effectiveness of the network infrastructure. Optics come in different form factors, data rates, reach, and compatibility, and selecting the right ones for the hardware and NOS is essential to achieve optimal network performance. For example, using the right transceivers and DACs can help reduce latency, increase bandwidth, and lower power consumption. In some cases, using third-party optics can provide significant cost savings compared to using branded optics, but it is essential to ensure compatibility with the switches and routers, either through thorough testing in a lab or by selecting optics that are approved by the switch or router vendor. Organizations can optimize their open networking deployment and maximize their benefits by carefully selecting the right optics for their network infrastructure. 

The Future of Disaggregated Networking

Disaggregated networking is a transformative approach to building network infrastructure that has been gaining popularity in recent years. It allows organizations to customize their network deployments by selecting the best hardware and software components that fit their specific use cases and industry needs. This level of flexibility and control translates into higher performance, cost savings, and innovation. Furthermore, startups like Aviz Networks and Hedgehog are addressing the challenges of support and orchestration for open-source NOSes, while hardware brands like Edge-Core and UfiSpace are leading the way in the truly disaggregated networking space. As more organizations embrace this approach, the future of networking looks bright and full of possibilities.

Alex Cronin
Hardware Nation
Tel. 770.924.5847