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SONiC NOS: The Future of Large Scale Networks

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SONiC, or Software for Open Networking in the Cloud, is a rapidly growing open-source network operating system (NOS) that is designed to run on white-box switches. Developed and maintained by a community of developers and users, SONiC offers a range of features and functionalities that are commonly found in proprietary NOSes, such as routing, switching, and management. 

The top contributors to SONiC include Microsoft, Facebook, Arista Networks, Google, Intel, NVIDIA, Alibaba, and Cisco. It’s worth noting that SONiC is a continuously evolving project, and the community is growing in size and strength, as more and more organizations are discovering the benefits of using an open-source network operating system, and they are joining the community to contribute and learn more. 

Currently, the Linux Foundation hosts SONiC as a project under the LF Networking (LFN) umbrella. LFN is a collaborative open-source project that brings together various networking projects under one roof, to provide a common framework for the development and evolution of open-source networking software.

Why SONiC?

One of the key advantages of SONiC is its open-source nature, which allows for flexibility and customization. This makes it well-suited for use in data centers and other large-scale network deployments. Organizations using SONiC have the ability to modify and tailor the software to their specific requirements, which can lead to a more efficient and cost-effective network infrastructure.

Another advantage of SONiC is its compatibility with a wide range of switch hardware from different vendors. SONiC has been tested and known to work well with switches based on chipsets from Broadcom Tomahawk and Trident series, NVIDIA Spectrum series, Marvell Teralynx and Prestera series, and Intel Tofino series. This allows organizations to choose the best hardware for their specific needs, without being locked into a single vendor. 

In addition, SONiC provides a rich set of APIs that allows for easy integration with other systems and tools. This allows organizations to use their existing monitoring, analytics, and automation tools with their SONiC-based network, which can lead to significant cost savings and improved efficiency.

Understanding the Architecture of SONiC

The modular containerized architecture of SONiC is built on top of Linux, and it is divided into several different components listed below that work together to provide a complete NOS solution. The SONiC architecture includes the following:

Linux Kernel: SONiC uses the Linux kernel as its foundation. The kernel provides the basic system services and resources that SONiC needs to function, such as memory management, process management, and device drivers.

User space: SONiC runs on top of the Linux kernel and includes a variety of user space applications and libraries that provide networking and management functionality. User space applications include routing protocols, switch control, and telemetry, which are all essential for the operation of a network switch.

Data plane: SONiC uses the data plane to provide switching and forwarding functionality. The data plane is responsible for forwarding packets through the switch, as well as providing features such as VLANs and Quality of Service (QoS).

Management plane: The management plane is responsible for managing the switch and its configuration. It provides a command-line interface (CLI) and web interface that can be used to configure and manage the switch. It also provides APIs that allow the switch to be managed programmatically.

Telemetry: SONiC provides a telemetry service that allows the switch to collect and export data about its performance and usage. This includes metrics such as CPU usage, memory usage, and network traffic.

SAI (Switch Abstraction Interface): The SAI (Switch Abstraction Interface) is an important component of SONiC’s architecture that provides a common API for controlling and managing the switch’s data plane.

More on the SAI interface here as it is important to emphasize this part of the SONiC architecture. The SAI interface is a C-language API that abstracts the underlying switch hardware and provides a consistent set of functions for controlling the switch’s data plane. This allows SONiC to run on a wide variety of switch hardware from different vendors, as long as the hardware has an SAI implementation that is compatible with SONiC.

The SAI interface provides a set of functions for managing the switch’s data plane, including:

  • Creating and deleting switch ports
  • Configuring VLANs and Quality of Service (QoS) settings
  • Managing switch forwarding tables
  • Collecting statistics on switch performance and usage

By providing a consistent interface for controlling the switch’s data plane, the SAI allows SONiC to be easily ported to new switch hardware platforms. This is a key advantage of SONiC, as it allows organizations to choose the best hardware for their specific needs, without being locked into a single vendor.

SONiC Challenges

Despite its many advantages, there are some challenges associated with the use of SONiC. One of the main challenges is its complexity, as it is built on top of Linux and can be difficult to learn and use, especially for network administrators who are not familiar with Linux. Additionally, there may be challenges scaling SONiC to the same degree as some proprietary NOSes, which are specifically designed for high-scale environments. Startups like Aviz Networks and Hedgehog have accelerated SONiC’s momentum by developing software tools to manage and support SONiC networks. 

How to Get Started

Overall, SONiC is a flexible, extensible, and open-source network operating system that offers many benefits for organizations operating large-scale networks. However, it requires a deep understanding in order to implement it successfully. It is recommended to partner with a company like Hardware Nation that understands the benefits and challenges of SONiC implementation.

Are you interested in learning more about SONiC? Please click on the live chat icon or email our open networking solutions specialists.

Alex Cronin, IT Solutions Architect

Alex is a solutions architect with over 15 years of broad infrastructure experience, specializing in networking and cybersecurity. He aims to deliver solutions that are impactful, scalable, and cost-effective. Alex is a trusted advisor to organizations and IT leaders, helping them make informed decisions about their IT landscape and aligning people, processes, and technology with strategic ambitions.

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