Redefining the Network Operating System for the SDCC

The network OS will be critical to enabling SDN environments and the software defined data center. 

By Arthur Cole | Posted Jan 26, 2016
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It is much easier to alter and upgrade software than hardware, hence the enormous appeal of software defined networking (SDN).

But all software needs an operating system to manage its interaction with other elements in the environment, which is why the rush is on to conquer the network operating system market.

By necessity, most of the development efforts to date are open and interoperable with third-party systems. This makes a lot of sense, considering the limitations of a closed network deployed over a dynamic, geographically distributed infrastructure.

Dell’s new OS10, for instance, is built on a native Linux kernel and supports the Open Compute Project’s Switch Abstraction Interface (SAI) to provide a common framework for a wide variety of network applications. It also supports operating systems and applications from rival SDN vendors like Cumulus Networks, Midokura and Big Switch, all of which can be integrated into a single network management stack. The could prove significant for the enterprise, considering the network operating system is on track to become the OS for the software defined data center (SDDC), which would finally give the enterprise a broadly open data environment that is both highly functional and resistant to vendor-lock-in.

One of Dell’s partners is a California company called IP Infusion, which has ported its OcNOS platform to the Open Networking Switch to enable a full-featured network environment that can be deployed and operated with ease. The company says it is the only one to provide extensive protocol support for routing, switching and multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) under the Open Compute Project. As well, the system supports modular, multitasking network functionality and tight integration with commodity hardware, allowing operators to deploy abstract networks across diverse infrastructure while avoiding operational and management complexity. The system is currently being bundled with the Dell S6000 platform through a joint distribution agreement.

Indeed, network operating systems targeting all manner of specialized functions are starting to crop up. Arista Network’s Extensible Operating System (EOS), for example, is purpose-built for linking legacy and cloud infrastructure through tools like real-time migration and broad container support. The platform is built around Arista’s state-driven SysDB concept, which was recently augmented with the NetDB repository to enhance network scalability (up to 1 million routes) and resilience. At the same time, it utilizes the CloudVision architecture to support network-wide visibility and telemetry, with added support for the Go programming language and OpenConfig APIs.

The enterprise should also keep an eye on carrier-grade operating systems, particularly community-based open platforms like ONOS, as they gather support from telecom and data center providers. ONOS recently passed the one-year mark and is rapidly adding features to its northbound, southbound and core modules. These include a new Application Intent Framework for high-level service definition, as well as MPLS tunneling and multi-machine state replication for more consistent mapping across large clusters. The platform is also showing itself to be highly adept at various use cases, such as packet-optical convergence, SDN-IP peering and IP multicast distribution.

The network operating system essentially defines the rules that will govern your SDN. Without it, you’ll have no end of trouble marshalling resources, maintaining security, overseeing utilization and performing hundreds of other tasks that make the difference between a well-ordered data environment and chaos.

And it could potentially be the most important decision you make for your future virtual enterprise.

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