GigaOm Key Criteria for Evaluating Network Operating Systems (NOSs)v4.0

An Evaluation Guide for Technology Decision-Makers

Table of Contents

  1. Executive Summary
  2. NOS Sector Brief
  3. Decision Criteria Analysis
  4. Analyst’s Outlook
  5. About Ivan McPhee

1. Executive Summary

The increase in corporate locations and users has led to an overwhelming number of devices, driving the adoption of new network technologies and operational frameworks. And behind the billions of users who rely on the internet to do business, communicate, and be entertained is a complex web of millions of internet protocol (IP) routers comprising hardware running network operating systems (NOSs) designed to feed the increasingly sophisticated, bandwidth-hungry applications upon which we’ve come to rely. Combining the agility of software-based feature development with bare-metal performance and economics, NOSs enable massively scalable, cost-effective networks.

Evolved from delivering simple peer-to-peer capabilities to sophisticated cloud-based and distributed architectures, a NOS is a critical component of a disaggregated tech stack running on bare-metal servers and switches. Composed of open, standards-based, disaggregated, interoperable software running on a variety of hardware platforms, NOSs offer seamless scalability, streamlined operations, reduced costs, increased innovation (by eliminating vendor lock-in), and accelerated time to market.

Modern NOSs leverage cloud for flexible scalability, high-utilization efficiency, and operational agility through containerized microservices over a shared, distributed infrastructure. They behave like a cloud platform, scaling seamlessly by forwarding packets from one interface to the other while, at the same time, applying policies, tagging packets, and filtering traffic. Incorporating built-in redundancy, fault protection mechanisms, and orchestration capabilities, they can enable complete disaggregation, allowing forwarding plane functions to run within the hardware router while the control plane can often be hosted on a secure cloud platform.

Business Imperative
Organizations should consider deploying NOSs because they provide centralized and standardized management of network resources, enabling the efficient administration of servers, storage, applications, and security. Deploying a NOS can lead to cost savings and increased flexibility, particularly when integrated with white box switching, allowing for more control over network infrastructure and the potential to leverage open networking benefits. Furthermore, network management is simplified since a NOS enables the effective provisioning, operation, and maintenance of network infrastructure, minimizing costly network disruptions.

Sector Adoption Score
To help executives and decision-makers assess the potential impact and value of a NOS deployment to the business, this GigaOm Key Criteria report provides a structured assessment of the sector across five factors: benefit, maturity, urgency, impact, and effort. By scoring each factor based on how strongly it compels or deters adoption of a NOS, we provide an overall Sector Adoption Score (Figure 1) of 4 out of 5, with 5 indicating the strongest possible recommendation to adopt. This indicates that a NOS is a credible candidate for deployment and worthy of thoughtful consideration.

The factors contributing to the Sector Adoption Score for NOSs are explained in more detail in the Sector Brief section that follows.

Key Criteria for Evaluating Network Operating Systems

Sector Adoption Score







Figure 1. Sector Adoption Score for NOSs

This is the fourth year that GigaOm has reported on the NOS space in the context of our Key Criteria and Radar reports. This report builds on our previous analysis and considers how the market has evolved over the last year.

This GigaOm Key Criteria report highlights the capabilities (table stakes, key features, and emerging features) and nonfunctional requirements (business criteria) for selecting a NOS. The companion GigaOm Radar reports identify vendors and products that excel in those decision criteria. Together, these reports provide an overview of the market, identify NOSs, and help decision-makers evaluate these solutions so they can make a more informed investment decision.

For this evaluation, there are three companion Radar reports broken out by target market: large enterprises and small-to-medium businesses (SMBs), cloud and managed service providers (CSPs and MSPs), and mobile network operators and network service providers (MNOs and NSPs)


The GigaOm Key Criteria report provides a detailed decision framework for IT and executive leadership assessing enterprise technologies. Each report defines relevant functional and nonfunctional aspects of solutions in a sector. The Key Criteria report informs the GigaOm Radar report, which provides a forward-looking assessment of vendor solutions in the sector.

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