Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Sonic Boom: Net OS Touted as Next Linux 

via Shutterstock

An industry consensus is emerging around the network operating system called Sonic.

A growing list of enterprise infrastructure vendors have announced switching gear and other networking components based on the Software for Open Networking in the Cloud. Market tracker IDC predicts the Sonic-based datacenter switch market will reach $2 billion by 2024.

That estimate is based on a growing list of use cases ranging from edge computing and 5G wireless deployments to smart network interface cards and network appliances based on NVMe-over-Fabrics. Moreover, proponents said the cloud-native architecture supports a range of silicon and processor options using different form factors.

“Sonic has evolved into an industry software platform with a significant ecosystem and consistent growth in features and adoption,” Ihab Tarazi, Dell Technologies’ Networking & Solutions CTO, noted in a blog post summarizing and industry roundtable.

Other Sonic backers participating in the event included Comcast, Microsoft and VMware.

Tarazi argued that the traditional networking stack vertically integrated with networking hardware was long on enterprise management and support but short on flexibility and innovation. That rigid approach prevented the ability to customize the software stack for different deployments options.

“These limitations were significantly amplified with the transition to cloud and modern applications,” Tarazi added. “Traditional networking was not designed to support an empowered developer community that requires self-serve provisioning, rapid development and implementation of features and automated application deployment.”

Earlier efforts to resolve that disconnect via network operating systems based on open development met with mixed results. Now the IT industry is coalescing around Sonic, the Dell executive asserted.

Indeed, there has been a steady stream of Sonic-based equipment by network equipment vendors over the past year or so.

For instance, Chinese server leader Inspur announced in May that its open networking components will be shared via white box switches based on Sonic. Cisco System (NASDAQ: CSCO) and cloud partner Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) also launched an open source initiative to manage network devices as operators encounter bottlenecks spawned by the exponential growth of data storage and raw computing power required for AI and data-driven enterprise applications.

Last December, Cisco announced progress with cloud partner Microsoft on a Sonic-based open networking initiative aimed at designing components to manage network devices.

“Sonic has emerged as the leading open-source standard bearer for network disaggregation,” said Brad Casemore, an IDC networking industry analyst. That decoupling of network software from underlying hardware has now extended to the “modular decoupling” of individual software functions and network applications, Casemore added.

“Sonic has the potential to become the Linux of networking,” the analyst said, or the analog to what the Linux kernel has achieved as an open source operating system on servers.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).