Apstra Boosts SONiC Support


By: Mary Jander

Apstra has improved its automation software to make it easier to manage open-source networks based on Software for Open Networking in the Cloud (SONiC) -- the network operating system (NOS) developed for Azure by Microsoft (MSFT) circa 2016, which the vendor donated to the Open Compute Project (OCP) in 2017.

Since then, SONiC's popularity has grown, thanks to its accessibility as an open-source NOS, its use of cloud-friendly containerized microservices, and its ability to abstract the switching functions in cloud networks. A growing ecosystem of implementers are ensuring SONiC's place as a catalyst for hyperscale clouds and 5G networking.

The latest iteration of the Apstra Operating System (AOS) brings the vendor’s intent-based networking (IBN) and intent-based analytics (IBA) to data centers that use SONiC to manage multi-vendor or white-box hardware.

“Apstra’s software abstracts the switch [operating system] complexity to present a consistent operational model across all switch OS options, including SONiC,” said Mansour Karam, co-founder and president of Apstra, in a prepared statement.

The announcement widens the SONiC support Apstra unveiled in August 2020 with the release of the AOS 3.3. At that point, Apstra expanded support for Juniper’s operating system and added SONiC compatibility.

While not qualifying as a completely new release, the latest version of AOS can manage multi-vendor SONiC implementations alongside vendor-specific operating systems with one interface. And users can replace the operating system for a particular switch with SONiC in order to test it out.

Apstra Broadens Scope

This announcement underscores Apstra’s strategy to lengthen the list of vendors supported by the AOS — which now includes Juniper (JNPR), Arista (ANET), Cisco (CSCO), Dell (DELL), NVIDIA (NVDA), and VMware (VMW), among others. And as remote work spreads and the rollout of 5G enlivens activity at the network edge, that seems a good plan. With SONiC growing in popularity, Apstra is broadening its ecosystem.

SONiC has been a major focus of many major networking vendors looking to broaden multi-vendor and open-source support. Arista Networks earlier this year shipped a Switch Abstraction Interface (SAI) for SONiC. Dell and Nokia threw their weight behind the open-source community. And NVIDIA and its newly acquired Mellanox and Cumulus Networks divisions have been big supporters of SONiC. (For more information, check out a report that Futuriom recently authored for NVIDIA and Cumulus: NVIDIA Adds to SONiC Momentum.)

Apstra has a slightly different tack, acting as the more neutral "Switzerland" of networking configuration and automation with a pure focus on software and analytics. By using telemetry and application programming interfaces (APIs) to configure, monitor, and manage networking, Apstra claims greater savings and reliability than solutions based mainly on artificial intelligence. Apstra views its support of SONiC as an important differentiator, along with support for protocols associated with the open-source network operating system, such as EVPN-VXLAN (Ethernet VPN and Virtual extensible LANs) and Free Range Routing (FRR).

What’s Ahead for Apstra?

Despite the challenges, Apstra as a company has some inherent advantages. Founded in 2014 by legendary Arista Networks Co-founder and long-time successful technology investor David Cheriton, now CEO, along with company president Mansour Karam (Arista and Big Switch) and CTO Sasha Ratkovic (Juniper), the company doesn’t rely on outside funding and isn’t subject to the demands of venture groups.

Technologically, Apstra was arguably one of the first major vendors to seriously address the network automation and IBN market. It’s had time to establish a reputation and get a solid feel for what customers require. If the company maintains its focus and continues to respond to market demands -- as it has with this announcement -- it will likely continue to advance as a contender.