Microsoft has been on an open source binge lately.
It brought Red Hat Enterprise Linux to its Azure public cloud last year. Redmond database gurus opened up SQL Server to run on Linux earlier this month. And last week at the Open Compute Project Summit Microsoft announced SONiC – a set of open source software components that can be used to create networking equipment, such as switches.
The latest move represents not only Microsoft’s embrace of open source technologies, but SONiC could be an important tool for users who are looking to build their own massive-scale infrastructure deployments.
Software for Open Networking in the Cloud (SONiC) is meant to be a software platform that can run across multiple hardware devices to create networking equipment. SONiC is enabled through a Switch Abstraction Interface (SAI), which Microsoft also contributed to OCP last year. Arista, Broadcom, Dell and Mellanox are initial partners that will enable their hardware to support SAI and SONiC.
It’s important to understand what SONiC is and what it isn’t. SONiC runs on a Linux Network Operating Systems (NOS) - Microsoft currently uses Debian - to create Layer 2 and 3 features. It’s not meant to be a software-defined networking or network virtualization platform, like Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) or VMware’s NSX.
“Microsoft does not plan to sell it or support it,” says IDC analyst Brad Casemore. Microsoft uses SONiC in limited ways in the Azure public cloud but hopes to ramp up usage this year, so part of the idea behind open sourcing it could be to glean suggestions from the community of how to improve it. “They are making it available to the OCP community via open source to solicit feedback and to see whether any enhancements or new ideas might be forthcoming,” Casemore says.
The move to release SONiC is the latest example of Microsoft positioning itself as an open source company. During a keynote address at the OCP Summit in California last week announcing SONiC, Azure CTO Mark Russinovich said 25% of Azure virtual machines run Linux, up from 20% just six months ago. That followed the bombshell news last week that Microsoft is opening up SQL Server to run on Linux.
Constellation Research’s Holger Mueller says it could be a way for Microsoft to attempt to increase its credibility in the networking community. “What we see in general is that if you are not No.1, No.2 and maybe No.3 in a market - you resort to open source initiatives in the hope of changing market share,” Mueller says.
OCP is as good of a place as any to do that. Facebook started the group two years ago as a way to develop open source hardware and software standards so that member companies – which include some of the biggest banks in the U.S. – could buy commodity hardware and customize it to their specific needs.
Microsoft is attempting to make sure it is part of OCP and not left in the dust by it. Microsoft’s corporate vice president Bill Liang sits on the board of OCP and the company has contributed multiple projects to OCP, including the SAI last year, along with a compute server design that it uses in Azure as well.