Dell Technologies brings first commercial distribution of SONiC to market

Enterprise SONiC Distribution by Dell Technologies adds enterprise features and support to the SONiC open source project, which Microsoft has driven around Azure, and which has been focused on hyperscaler needs.

This week, Dell Technologies announced Enterprise SONiC Distribution by Dell Technologies, a set of fully supported open source networking solutions that becomes the first commercial distribution for the Software for Open Networking in the Cloud [SONiC] open source project.

SONiC has been spearheaded by Microsoft, and Dell’s close relationship with Microsoft accounts for their own early interest in the project.

“About five years ago, we started to see a number of open source-based solutions popping up in the networking space,” said Drew Schulke, VP of Dell EMC Networking at Dell Technologies. “SONiC was one of them, Microsoft’s foray into open source networking, which was motivated by their wanting to control their own destiny within Azure and their other properties. Facebook has a similar approach, and there were projects in the Linux foundation. As we are an infrastructure provider to Microsoft, we got interested to serve Microsoft as a customer. We also got involved in OpenSwitch, another project in this space.”

As is often the case in the open source project world with its overlapping projects, there is a gravitational pull towards one of them, and Dell decided that in this area, that one was SONiC.

“It became clear to us a couple years ago that SONiC had the greatest pull,” Schulke indicated. “Alibaba was in on this too,  so you had some big tier one names, which was part of a perfect storm in their favour.”

Dell has been working for a while on getting a commercial distribution ready, and is formally announcing it now.

“We saw a clear need to provide a tested distribution with the support that would go along with it that would help with that journey,” Schulke said. “We are the first company to announce a commercial release. No one has gone this far in terms of providing that support.”

Enterprise SONiC Distribution by Dell Technologies has been fully qualified on select Dell EMC PowerSwitch Z series and S series platforms for full hardware support including LEDs, power, PHYs, environmentals and documentation. These are the Z9100-ON, Z9264F-ON, and Z9332F-ON, and in the S series, the S5232F-ON, S5248F-ON, and S5296F-ON. The Management Framework  includes a centralized, intuitive and holistic command line interface [CLI] that will help integration with existing practices. Enterprise SONiC Distribution by Dell Technologies is also backed by Dell support and their supply chain.

“We have been in a somewhat clandestine fashion working for over nine months in getting our SONiC distribution deployed into customer environments,” Schulke said. “A couple are up and running in production, but they are not public references. We are working on a dozen others in proof of concepts and pilots, and have a road map with a number of releases planned. So given this, we went public with our intentions.”

Schulke indicated that the Enterprise adds here are geared at transitioning the Dell SONiC distribution from SONiC’s DNA in supporting hyperscalers to providing the features that large enterprises expect.

“We are adding the L2 capabilities, CLI, and management and orchestration capabilities, and at some point those will meet upstream in the community distribution as well,” he said. “Dell has been very active in adding features and capabilities to the open source project, and a large number of contributions are from us. We will provide these new features in our commercial distribution first, and it may take some time to catch up in the community version.”

Schulke also noted that Dell is building out an ecosystem around their commercial distribution.

“We have partnered with managing and monitoring companies to bring them to bear here,” he said. “We are also using a number of our own internal fabric management tools, to which we are adding SONiC compatibility.”

Enterprise SONiC Distribution by Dell Technologies is available both through Dell direct and through channel partners.

“Where partners will be able to come in and add additional value is around the underlying architecture of SONiC, adding additional features by building their own microservices and running them on top,” Schulke noted. “It’s a tremendous opportunity to help customers develop those microservices.”

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