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SONiC: It’s Not Just for Switches Anymore

By Amit Sanyal, Senior Director, Product Marketing, Marvell

SONiC (Software for Open Networking in the Cloud) has steadily gained momentum as a cloud-scale network operating system (NOS) by offering a community-driven approach to NOS innovation. In fact, 650 Group predicts that revenue for SONiC hardware, controllers and OSs will grow from around US$2 billion today to around US$4.5 billion by 2025. 

Those using it know that the SONiC open-source framework shortens software development cycles; and SONiC’s Switch Abstraction Interface (SAI) provides ease of porting and a homogeneous edge-to-cloud experience for data center operators. It also speeds time-to-market for OEMs bringing new systems to the market.

The bottom line: more choice is good when it comes to building disaggregated networking hardware optimized for the cloud. Over recent years, SONiC-using cloud customers have benefited from consistent user experience, unified automation, and software portability across switch platforms, at scale.

As the utility of SONiC has become evident, other applications are lining up to benefit from this open-source ecosystem.

A SONiC Buffet: Extending SONiC to Storage

SONiC capabilities in Marvell’s cloud-optimized switch silicon include high availability (HA) features, RDMA over converged ethernet (RoCE), low latency, and advanced telemetry. All these features are required to run robust storage networks.

Here’s one use case: EBOF. The capabilities above form the foundation of Marvell’s Ethernet-Bunch-of-Flash (EBOF) storage architecture. The new EBOF architecture addresses the non-storage bottlenecks that constrain the performance of the traditional Just-a-Bunch-of-Flash (JBOF) architecture it replaces-by disaggregating storage from compute.

EBOF architecture replaces the bottleneck components found in JBOF – CPUs, DRAM and SmartNICs – with an Ethernet switch, and it’s here that SONiC is added to the plate. Marvell has, for the first time, applied SONiC to storage, specifically for services enablement, including the NVMeoFTM (NVM Express over Fabrics) discovery controller, and out-of-band management for EBOF, using Redfish® management. This implementation is in production today on the Ingrasys ES2000 EBOF storage solution. (For more on this topic, check out this, this, and this.)

Marvell has now extended SONiC NOS to enable storage services, thus bringing the benefits of disaggregated open networking to the storage domain.

OK, tasty enough, but what about compute?

How Would You Like Your Arm Prepared?

I prefer Arm for my control plane processing, you say. Why can’t I manage those switch-based processors using SONiC, too, you ask? You’re in luck. For the first time, SONiC is the OS for Arm-based, embedded control plane processors, specifically the control plane processors found on Marvell® Prestera® switches. SONiC-enabled Arm processing allows SONiC to run on lower-cost 1G systems, reducing the bill-of-materials, power, and total cost of ownership for both management and access switches.

In addition to embedded processors, with the OCTEON® family, Marvell offers a smorgasbord of Arm-based processors. These can be paired with Marvell switches to bring the benefits of the Arm ecosystem to networking, including Data Processing Units (DPUs) and SmartNICs.

By combining SONiC with Arm processors, we’re setting the table for the broad Arm software ecosystem – which will develop applications for SONiC that can benefit both cloud and enterprise customers.

The Third Course

So, you’ve made it through the SONiC-enabled switching and on-chip control processing courses but there’s something more you need to round out the meal. Something to reap the full benefit of your SONiC experience. PHY, of course. Whether your taste runs to copper or optical mediums; PAM or coherent modulation, Marvell provides a complete SONiC-enabled portfolio by offering SONiC with our (not baked) Alaska® Ethernet PHYs and optical modules built using Marvell DSPs.  

Room for Dessert?

Finally, by enabling SONiC across the data center and enterprise switch portfolio we’re able to bring operators the enhanced telemetry and visibility capabilities that are so critical to effective service-level validation and troubleshooting. For more information on Marvell telemetry capabilities, check out this short video:

The Drive Home

Disaggregation has lowered the barrier-to-entry for market participants – unleashing new innovations from myriad hardware and software suppliers. By making use of SONiC, network designers can readily design and build disaggregated data center and enterprise networks.

For its part, Marvell’s goal is simple: help realize the vision of an open-source standardized network operating system and accelerate its adoption.

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