Table of Contents
- Market Categories and Deployment Types
- Key Criteria Comparison
- GigaOm Radar
- Vendor Insights
- Analyst’s Take
- About Ivan McPhee
The network operating system (NOS) landscape is evolving rapidly. With COVID-19 accelerating the transition to remote working, the last two years were a turning point for many network operating system suppliers, as reflected by new acquisitions, new capabilities, new investors, new partnerships, and new customer engagements. Legacy vendors adopted disaggregation to protect their installed base and mitigate supply chain issues; open-source initiatives promised flexible, low-cost deployments with rapid community innovation; and new players emerged with disruptive, cloud-native approaches, significant financial backing, and high-profile early adopters.
Moreover, the needs of enterprises and service providers have also changed. Increased competition, rapid innovation, and exponential growth transformed requirements for critical network infrastructure. In addition, cloud-based edge applications and new technologies—including artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), and machine learning (ML)—demanded higher-capacity devices, simpler operations, and unprecedented levels of customization.
The result? A market defined by limited choice and “few sizes fit all” solutions has made way for disaggregated, open-standards-based tech stacks, promoting interoperability. Instead of purchasing and deploying a “best-fit” solution, customers can independently choose—and swap out—hardware and software based on what makes the most sense for each use case. Disaggregation also enables users to add or remove specific features, creating a network tailored to the exact needs of their operations, thereby limiting vulnerabilities and risk exposure.
Representing features and capabilities widely adopted and well implemented in the sector, the following table stakes are the minimum required for a network operating system to be included in the GigaOm Radars for network operating systems.
- Disaggregated: The network operating system can be purchased independently from the hardware, allowing customers to mix and match best-in-class hardware and software to meet the needs of any given use case. With over 25 network operating systems supporting merchant silicon and bare-metal switches, disaggregation unleashes cost-effective scalability with choice and flexibility.
- Runs on bare metal: Powering fast, affordable networks, bare-metal switches or commercial off-the-shelf servers allow hardware and software to be decoupled to implement hybrid network architectures incorporating cost-effective, best-in-class technologies. Replacing vendor lock-in with freedom of choice, IT departments can deploy the network operating system that best supports their applications and operational environment.
- Standalone: The network operating system is not bundled with any other software and does not require additional third-party components or development. While different vendor options for analytics, management, and telemetry may be included as complementary offerings, these are not necessary for the network operating system to run.
- Integrated security: Integrated security means implementing controls to secure the network against internal or external bad actors. In addition to securing the management of network devices, modern operators must implement controls to protect the network itself. These controls include standard, extended, router, port, and Layer 2 and Layer 3 user policies and filters (access control lists or ACLs).
Once the table stakes are met, each network operating system is scored on key criteria, evaluation metrics, and emerging technologies and trends. Key criteria are the basis on which organizations decide which solutions to adopt for their needs, while evaluation metrics determine the impact the solution may have on the organization. In addition, based on the previous year’s report, the scoring for emerging technologies and trends determines how well the project or vendor has executed against those criteria during the year.
GigaOm Radars for Network Operating Systems
Due to the large number of suppliers and solutions available, we have divided the network operating system landscape into three reports based on the target market.
- Network service providers (NSPs)
- Cloud and managed service providers (CSPs and MSPs)
- Large enterprises and small-to-medium businesses (SMBs)
Figure 1 indicates which vendors and network operating systems are covered in each report. While three new vendors (6WIND, Asterfusion, and Hedgehog) are included, Infinera, Open Compute Project, and Pluribus Networks have been removed. Infinera has discontinued the development of its cloud network operating systems (CNOS) due to the strategic realignment of investment to support the company’s open optical strategy; Open Compute Project (OCP) decided to sunset Open Network Linux (ONL) at the end of 2022 in favor of supporting SONiC, hosted by The Linux Foundation; and Pluribus Networks was acquired by Arista, with Netvisor ONE being repositioned as the core component of Arista Unified Cloud Fabric in the CSP/MSP market. In addition, ADVA Optical Networking merged with Adtran, and the ADVA name subsequently retired while the Ensemble solutions remain. Furthermore, it should be noted that several suppliers offer enterprise-grade versions of open source SONiC with various proprietary features added, with their respective modules highlighting their capabilities and differences.
Figure 1. Suppliers and Systems included in Each GigaOm Radar for NOSs
This GigaOm Radar provides an overview of network operating systems suppliers and their available offerings based on the target market, equipping IT decision-makers with the information they need to select the best solution for their business and use case requirements. In addition, the corresponding GigaOm report, “Key Criteria for Evaluating Network Operating Systems,” explains the key features and metrics used to evaluate suppliers. These reports are designed to help educate decision-makers, providing essential insights for network modernization initiatives.
How to Read this Report
This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding, consider reviewing the following reports:
Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.
GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.