Microsoft Tackles Cloud Data Center SDN With SONiC

By Pedro Hernandez  |  Posted 2016-03-10 Print this article Print
Microsoft cloud data center

Microsoft's latest contribution to the Open Compute Project is aimed at helping cloud data center operators more quickly embrace efficient, next-generation networking innovations.

Microsoft is adding another piece to the software-defined data center puzzle for cloud providers.

During this week's Open Compute Project (OCP) U.S. Summit in San Jose, Calif., Microsoft unveiled a new set of open-source software components for switches and other networking devices dubbed Software for Open Networking in the Cloud, or SONiC for short. Built with the help of Arista, Broadcom, Dell and Mellanox, the software giant announced it had submitted the technology to the OCP.

Founded by Facebook, the OCP promotes open-source data center system designs and specifications, with an eye toward scalability and efficiency. Today, the effort is backed by many of the world's biggest technology and communications companies, including AT&T, Google, Intel and, of course, Microsoft.

SONiC is Microsoft's stab at popularizing software-defined networking (SDN) among cloud data center companies.

"Together with SAI [Switch Abstraction Interface], SONiC will enable cloud operators to take advantage of hardware innovation while giving them a framework to build upon an open source code for apps on the network switch and gain the ability to integrate with multiple platforms," blogged Mark Russinovich, chief technology officer at Microsoft Azure. "In short, we believe it's the final piece of the puzzle in delivering a fully open sourced switch platform that can share the same software stack across hardware from multiple switch vendors."

SAI is an OCP specification championed by Dell, Big Switch Networks, Mellanox and Microsoft that enables interoperability across network operating systems via a common API interface. SAI was presented at last year's OCP Summit.

The SONiC acronym is fitting, added Russinovich. Apart from being designed with "cloud speed and scale" in mind, SONiC is extensible, allowing organizations to quickly add functionality from other open-source projects or proprietary software vendors, enabling them to improve data center efficiency.

The Redmond, Wash., tech titan's contributions to the OCP isn't limited to software.

In 2014, Microsoft offered its Open CloudServer specification (OCS), inspired by the energy-efficient server and data center designs the company uses in its own Azure cloud. Microsoft followed up last year with OCS v2 and the Local Energy Storage (LES) spec, the latter of which uses a distributed approach to uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) that help keep servers running in the event of a power outage.

Microsoft isn't the only IT heavyweight making waves at this year's OCP Summit.

Google announced the search giant intended to submit a new data center rack specification. The internally developed design features a new form factor and a 48V rack power distribution unit. Used with high-performance systems, the 48V power distribution system is 30 percent more efficient than 12V rack architecture, according to John Zipfel, a Google technical program manager.

Google began work on 48V power distribution in 2010 after noticing the increased power draw of high-performance computing (HPC) server components, including processors and graphical processing units (GPU).


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