The Network OS in a Software-Defined Enterprise

As the enterprise becomes more steeped in software defined networking (SDN), the role of the network operating system is gaining importance.

Software performance, after all, is only as good as its underlying support code, which in SDN’s case is the vital link between translating the queries and commands of network level services and applications to the hardware infrastructure on which the entire data environment is based.

This has naturally led to a spurt of networking OS development, with both start-ups and long-time networking software vendors seeking support among commodity hardware designers.

A company called SnapRoute recently scored $25 million in venture capital for its FlexSwitch open source operating system, says ENP’s Sean Michael Kerner. The company is looking to disrupt legacy networking markets by pushing networking services, visibility and control all the way to the chip level. That should give organizations a means to exert broad control over hardware configurations using their SDN-layer management tools. The company has contributed its networking stack and management modules to the OpenSwitch Project, which is now managed by the Linux Foundation.

Meanwhile, Cumulus Networks has added a number of new hardware options to its Linux-based OS, with the aim of gathering support from a broad array of switch vendors. As reported by ENP’s Kerner, the company has designed a series of multi-port top-of-rack (ToR) switches that span from 1 GbE to 100 GbE and use a combination of Intel and Broadcom processors. In addition, it has extended support to Facebook’s 128-port, 100 GbE rack switch. Although all of the switches will be built by other vendors, they will come preconfigured with Cumulus’ Open Network Install Environment (ONIE). That allows users to install the OS of their choice but provides certain configuration advantages for Cumulus Linux.

Another contender is Apstra Inc., which earlier this year integrated its AOS platform into the Facebook Wedge 100 switch. The aim is to deliver broad disaggregation capabilities to the networking framework of Facebook’s Open Compute Platform. Apstra officials say this is crucial to the development of situational awareness on the network services layer and Self-Operating Network (SON) capabilities in multi-vendor environments. As well, it provides the enterprise with broad visibility into the disaggregated network so it can be operated as a single, integrated environment, rather than a collection of independently functioning boxes.

Yet another new OS comes from RAD, a long-time telecom services provider that has now set its sights on the network edge. The company’s virtual CPE (vCPE) operating system debuted at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona earlier this week, along with the company’s ETX-2v white box solution. Together, they are intended to provide virtual network functions and support third-party open management stacks, SDN control/orchestration and operations/business support systems (OSS/BSS) on both telco and enterprise edge infrastructure. The system also supports key NFV components like the KVM hypervisor, Open vSwitch and OpenStack. It also provides integrated drivers for LTE and Wi-Fi.

With the Internet of Things (IoT) quickly taking shape and the line between the enterprise network and the wider world becoming less and less clear, organizations will have trouble exerting full control of data resources no matter what network operating system they deploy. But for those elements that are clearly within the enterprise sphere of influence, it helps to have a unified infrastructure under the domain of a single, integrated operating environment.

Arthur Cole covers networking and the data center for Enterprise Networking Planet and IT Business Edge. He has served as editor of numerous publications covering everything from audio/video production and distribution, multimedia and the Internet to video gaming.

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