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GigaOm Radar for Network Operating Systems v1.0

Vendor Assessment for Technology Decision Makers

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Table of Contents

  1. Summary
  2. Market Categories and Deployment Types
  3. Key Criteria Comparison
  4. GigaOm Radar
  5. Vendor Insights
  6. Analyst’s Take
  7. About Chris Grundemann


Cloud-native architectures, new merchant silicon, and “open networking” offer networking agility, flexibility, resiliency, and scalability for those brave enough to take advantage of new, innovative, disaggregated tech stacks promising a massive leap in performance at the lowest possible cost. At the center are Linux-based network operating systems (NOSs) running on bare-metal servers and switches using merchant silicon.

With the primary focus on routing—instead of data center switching—the NOS landscape is rapidly evolving. The traditional incumbent vendors are reinventing themselves through acquisitions, alliances, and moves to “open” architectures. Open-source initiatives are leveraging contributed code and the collective power of communities to drive innovation. Last but not least, new players are emerging with disruptive, cloud-native approaches, significant financial backing, and high-profile early adopters.

This report provides an overview of the vendor landscape based on the following table stakes, which are mature, stable solution features that are common across all vendors:

  • Bare metal: A bare-metal server or switch comes without software, allowing the network stack to be decoupled to implement hybrid network architectures incorporating cost-effective, best-in-class technologies. Bare-metal switches use merchant silicon and come with Open Network Install Environment (ONIE), a boot-loader from the Open Compute Project, facilitating zero-touch provisioning (ZTP) of the NOS of choice. Some cloud-native vendors offer virtualized or containerized versions for added agility, flexibility, and scalability.
  • Disaggregated: Disaggregated routing and switching enable network architects to optimally mix and match best-in-class hardware and software to meet the needs of a given use case. This report only covers network operating systems that can be purchased independently from the hardware. However, it’s important to note that in addition to making their product available as a standalone NOS running on bare-metal servers or switches, some traditional networking vendors are including it as part of a proprietary fully-integrated network appliance.
  • Standalone: While the architecture and deployment process vary, each NOS included in this report is a standalone solution and does not require third-party components. Each can be installed on a bare-metal server or switch and operated with built-in control and management plane functionality. While additional options for analytics, management, and telemetry may be mentioned as complementary offerings from the vendor, these are not required for the NOS to run.

Based on these table stakes, NOSs such as Cisco’s Internetwork Operating System (IOS), Juniper’s JunOS, and NVIDIA’s ONYX are not included because they—despite being disaggregated—are sold and supported only on the associated vendor’s equipment. Vendors like Dell EMC have also been excluded because they either own a proprietary NOS or support an open-source solution like SONiC (which is hosted by the Open Compute Project and described in that section). While open and disaggregated, the Open Networking Foundation’s (ONF) two NOS offerings, ONOS and Stratum, are not standalone and, therefore, are not covered.

Note: If you are aware of any NOS that meets the table stakes but is not included in this report, please email GigaOm and let us know.

Lastly, it’s important to note that, in addition to significant projects hosted by the Open Compute Project (OCP), the Open Networking Foundation, and The Linux Foundation, several other organizations are shaping the direction and evolution of disaggregated networking.

Foremost among these is the Telecom Infra Project (TIP). Formed by Facebook in 2016, TIP is a global community of companies and organizations collaborating to accelerate the development of open, disaggregated, standards-based networking solutions spanning three strategic areas: access, core services, and transport. Many of the world’s largest NSPs, together with most of the ODMs, merchant silicon, and NOS vendors mentioned in this report, are members of TIP.

As you read this report, please do so with an open mind. Driven by the demand for flexibility, performance, and scalability—combined with cost efficiency—the vendor landscape and NOS offerings are rapidly evolving. We recommend you use this report to create a shortlist of vendors that support your target market, deployment model, and use case. Then contact the relevant vendors for additional information on features and cost.

For additional information related to choosing a network operating system, please read the report, “Key Criteria for Evaluating Network Operating Systems: An Evaluation Guide for Technology Decision Makers,” published by GigaOm.

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.

Vendor Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.

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