SONiC: operating system architecture and customer benefits

Larch Networks has an extensive successful experience in adapting of SONiC for network switches, packet brokers, and networking applications.
SONiC (Software for Open Networking in the Cloud) is an open-source network operating system. Microsoft initiated SONiC development in 2016, and in 2017, SONiC was released as public software in the framework of the Open Compute Project (OCP). Initially, Microsoft developed SONiC as a scalable solution for Azure cloud computing services. SONiC has been designed on the base of Linux kernel as a collection of device drivers, kernel patches, utilities and tools, etc. Nowadays SONiC is widely adapted by data center operators as well as multi-service providers.


The main Idea of SONiC creation was the network disaggregation concept so-called “white-box switch”, when a customer feels free to choose a networking operating system and application software independently from networking hardware. Big players, like Microsoft, Facebook, LinkedIn, Dell, Intel, Broadcom, Mellanox, Marvell, Cavium, Cisco, etc. supported this idea. They have formed the OCP group and have tackled the problem of the traditional network stack introducing the standard abstraction of the network switch on the level of Application-Specific Integrated Circuit (ASICs). The Switch Abstraction Interface (SAI) has been developed by the OCP group to define switch abstraction with the C language Application Programming Interface (API). SONiC breaks networking functional components into Docker containers, like Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP), Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), NoSQL Redis database, etc.

So, data center operators can consider the following benefits of SONiC implementation based on the disaggregation concept and the SAI use:

  • a variety of choice for software, hardware and silicon vendors;
  • reduction of operational burden with free operating system and optimization of choice between hardware vendors;
  • faster time to market;
  • open and modular software structure with high scalability;
  • opportunity of evolution for containerized software;
  • rapidly growing ecosystem with about one thousand members including major network chip vendors and big multi-service providers Alibaba, Tencent, etc.);
  • easy migration from obsolete hardware with the same software stack;
  • debugging improvement with a common software platform;
  • improvement of network resilience.