Mellanox Drives Data Center Innovation and Disaggregation with Integrated SONiC Open Networking Solution

by Amit Katz

Data centers are rapidly evolving to an architecture that is accelerated, disaggregated and software-defined to meet exponential growth in AI, data analytics, and high-performance computing.

One of the ways Mellanox, the networking business unit of NVIDIA, is fueling this movement is with its support of SONiC (Software for Open Networking in the Cloud). This open-source network operating system, based on Linux, provides hyperscale data centers with vendor-neutral networking. Originally developed by Microsoft for Azure, SONiC is now managed by the Open Compute Project and has gained traction in other cloud businesses and enterprises.

Optimized for automation and scale across large data centers, SONiC is supported by a growing community of vendors and customers. Its openness gives customers the flexibility to switch platforms or vendors without changing their software stack. And its modular, extensible, container-based design allows rapid feature updates, accelerating innovation and reducing cost.

We’ve made a significant investment in SONiC and are among the top three code contributors to the SONiC community. Customers have already deployed more than 11,000 Mellanox switches and more than 350,000 Mellanox Spectrum switch ports in production data centers running the SONiC operating system. Mellanox SONiC switch customers include major cloud and enterprise companies around the world.

Best-in-Class Hardware

The open nature of SONiC and its standardized API — called the switch abstraction interface — let customers choose the best switch silicon and switch systems for their networking needs. Mellanox offers best-in-class hardware for SONiC, with in-service software upgrades, optimized RDMA over converged ethernet (RoCE) support for applications like GPUDirect and NVMe over Fabrics, and a fully programmable pipeline. A shared port buffer delivers low latency across any combination of ports and port speeds. Our advanced telemetry solution, What Just Happened, works with SONiC and is being demonstrated at the OCP Virtual Summit, May 12-15.

Mellanox supports multiple network operating system options, including SONiC and Cumulus, for its Spectrum switches and provides Microsoft Windows Server in-box drivers for ConnectX NICs to simplify connecting both virtualized and bare-metal data center servers for enterprise Azure stack and Azure cloud deployments.

Mellanox was the first network vendor to deliver full ASIC-to-Protocol (A2P) support for SONiC with enterprise-grade support offerings. Mellanox offers both formal training and full-stack A2P support for SONiC pre-configured on its switches.

Broad Industry Support

Our SONiC partners are cloud and enterprise companies that value the flexibility of an open-source network OS. Here’s what a few of them had to say, along with perspective from a respected analyst firm:

Yousef Khalidi, corporate vice president of Azure Networking at Microsoft, which is a close partner on this effort, said, “We welcome a growing SONiC open source community, including service providers and switch vendors such as Mellanox who support, contribute to and run SONiC in production. SONiC is a disaggregated, open-source network operating system, which enables accelerated innovation, rapid deployment, and large-scale network automation in data centers. It is an important component of the Microsoft Azure infrastructure.”

Marcus Chen, network director at UCloud, a Shanghai-based builder of global data centers, which offers diverse cloud services and is among those benefiting from open-source network operating systems, said: “Mellanox has been pioneering the Open Ethernet movement and SONiC is an important milestone. Cloud operators can break free from vendor lock-in and build customized infrastructures to address current and rapidly evolving customer needs.”

Brad Casemore, research vice president for data center networks at industry-analyst firm IDC, said:

“IDC has closely tracked the growing adoption of the open-source SONiC network operating system by some of the world’s largest IaaS cloud providers. SONiC is now being adopted beyond hyperscale, in a growing number of tier 2 cloud providers, and even in some large enterprises. Mellanox’s support for SONiC, which includes reaching the benchmark of 350,000 switch ports, helps to provide current and prospective adopters of SONiC with the assurance that their disaggregated data center networks will possess the requisite flexibility, performance and scalability to meet future requirements.”

For those interested in trying SONiC or other Open Ethernet options, multiple generations of the Mellanox Spectrum family Ethernet switches are available now with a choice of networking software solutions. We offer full-stack support for SONiC on Spectrum to select data center customers, something currently not offered by any other Ethernet switch vendor.

Learn more about running SONiC with Mellanox Spectrum Ethernet switches.

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