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Key Criteria for Evaluating Network Operating Systems v 1.0

An Evaluation Guide for Technology Decision Makers


Networks have been built and operated in roughly the same way for more than 30 years. A handful of vendors dominated the market with monolithic (integrated hardware and software) devices, each with a single product line and a limited feature set focused on specific use cases. As with all closed solutions, changing vendors meant swapping out the entire installation—sometimes even the architecture—which was prohibitively expensive.

As edge computing, next-generation cloud platforms, and opportunities to disrupt started to drive innovation at an accelerating pace, the “hyperscalers” pioneered disaggregation. They invested in their own unique brand of “open” network operating system (NOS) stacks to accommodate exponential traffic growth, increase agility, and reduce costs.

In recent years, the needs of enterprises and service providers have also changed. Increased competition, rapid innovation, and exponential growth have transformed what they need from their critical network infrastructure. Cloud-based applications and new technologies—including artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), and machine learning (ML)—demand higher capacity devices, simpler operations, and unprecedented levels of customization.

The result? A market defined by limited choice and “a few sizes fit all” solutions is now giving way to disaggregated hardware and software based on open standards and interoperability. Instead of purchasing and deploying a “best fit” solution, customers have the freedom to independently choose—and swap out—the hardware and software that makes the most sense for each use case. Disaggregation also enables users to add and remove specific features, creating a network tailored to their operations’ exact needs, limiting vulnerabilities and risk exposure.

However, with choice comes increased responsibility. Choosing the right NOS means fully understanding your business requirements, objectives, constraints, use cases, in-house skill sets, and risk profile. When comparing different network operating systems, it’s essential to know the vendor’s target market, deployment models, and supported use cases. Take the time to get to know the features, openness, configurability, hardware support, and maintenance of the NOS, together with future directions of both product and vendor.

This “GigaOm Key Criteria Report for Evaluating Network Operating Systems” outlines critical criteria and evaluation metrics for selecting a NOS. The corresponding “GigaOm Radar Report for Network Operating Systems” provides an overview of notable NOS vendors and their offerings available today. Together, these reports are designed to help decision-makers evaluate existing solutions and make informed decisions on how to invest. Note that this report only covers network operating systems that can be purchased independently from the hardware.

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.

Full report available to GigaOm Subscribers.

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