SONiC Benefits from Strong Contributions, Poised to Grow Significantly in 2021

SONiC has gained popularity, and development efforts accelerated throughout 2020, despite the lack of travel and face-to-face interactions from COVID-19 restrictions.  2020 saw the incorporation of more features and excitement amongst suppliers and customers.  SONiC now has more advanced features and functionality and continues to be hardened for data center deployments well beyond the hyperscalers.  Advanced functions like BGP and RDMA are supported.  SONiC also added many hours of production traffic under its belt as we estimate over 100,000 switches running SONiC at the end of 2020.

SONiC is a Linux-based open-source networking operating system with its roots in the open community and Microsoft as an original contributor.  Today it has over fifty member companies and thousands of individuals contributing.  It has reached a critical scale beyond Microsoft’s internal use within Azure.  Increased vendor and customer contributions help increase the appeal of SONiC, and our end-user interviews indicate strong interest in several enterprise verticals, more than just the typical financial services sector.

Disaggregation is a trend here to stay with customers evaluating the ASIC, physical switch, optics, and operating system separately.  What was standard with full decoupling at the hyperscalers is making its way down to more traditional cloud and enterprise customers.  True to its open-source Linux roots, SONiC leverages the strength of the community, is beneficial financially to vendors both large and small, and also creates an ecosystem of support and career advancement for individual member contributions.  SONiC’s recent developments time well with a renewed interest in disaggregation.  This is important.  SONiC is being embraced not only at the system level via system vendors but at a Silicon level and in a market of millions of customers, not just a few hyperscalers.  Broad-based support can make SONiC meaningful for the whole networking market.

SONiC deployments increased in complexity as well.  Vendors showcased SONiC working on modular switches, modular routers, as well as the disaggregated chassis. The 2020 releases and future roadmaps continue to add critical enhancements to automation and telemetry.

As we look towards 2021, we see increased adoption of SONiC in Tier 2/3 Cloud providers.  We expect more enterprises to move parts of their network to SONiC.  More contributions from traditional enterprise suppliers and the community will create even more trust in SONiC.  With the disaggregation of switch hardware from the software, we believe SONiC will also see the benefit of accelerated hardware and software development in 2021.  The industry might not observe this directly because of the rapid move from 3.2 Tbps to 12.8 Tbps to 25.6 Tbps switches.  Still, as switch ASICs rapidly hit the market with faster pipes, more programmability, and massive amounts of telemetry data, the industry needs disaggregation and increased development velocity to keep pace.

Beyond 2021, SONiC could play a significant role beyond the data center; edge computing and networks built to support AI/ML seem like good targets, and we are closely watching developments outside the data center as well.