Nokia Launches New Linux-based Network Operating System

eWEEK NEWS ANALYSIS: New Linux-based network operating system and an intent-based automation and operations toolkit for developers will allow cloud and data center builders to scale and adapt operations in the face of year-over-year exponential traffic growth


Nokia, born in 1865 in Finland, is the answer to the IT history trivia question: What company made the world’s No. 1-selling smartphone (well, they were sort of smart back in the 1990s and early 2000s) before BlackBerry, iPhone and the Androids?

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007--which subsequently ran rings around every other mobile phone available at the time and, as it turned out, for years to come--Nokia took the hint and did what other smart businesses have done: It pivoted. 2007 was the year it started investing heavily in telecom hardware and software, and in 2013 it sold its mobile phone division to Microsoft for €5.4 billion. In 2015 it acquired Alcatel-Lucent, a respected U.S. provider of IP and cloud networking and ultra-broadband fixed and wireless access solutions for service providers.

While consumers have been buying iPhones and various makes of Android smartphones, Nokia has quietly been rebuilding its fortunes on the enterprise side, and it’s done well. It has thousands of customers--mainly in Europe and Asia--and provides telecom equipment for modest little companies such as British Telecom, Apple, Equinix and others like them.

No. 2 in global telecom networks hardware

With 16.9 percent of the global telecom service provider networks market in 2019, Nokia ranks second only to Chinese IT giant Huawei, which owns 35.4 percent of the market. Sweden’s Ericsson is third at 11.7 percent.

Nokia has expanded into other networking areas of late. Late last year, the company revealed it has already built and deployed 120 new 5G-ready private wireless networks

So that’s the lead-up to this news: Nokia on July 9 launched its own new Linux-based network operating system and a declarative, intent-based automation and operations toolkit for developers. This will allow cloud and data center builders to scale and adapt operations in the face of year-over-year exponential traffic growth and constant change brought on from technology shifts like 5G and Industry 4.0. The new Nokia Service Router Linux (SR Linux) NOS and Nokia Fabric Service Platform (FSP) were co-developed with leading global webscale companies, including Apple, which is deploying the technology at its data centers.

“We’ve got a very successful IP routing product line, particularly building large-scale networks with service providers, but over the last several years we’ve also started working pretty closely with the hyperscalers, helping them with their data center interconnect and WAN networks,” Steve Vogelsang, Vice-President of Strategy and CTO for Nokia’s ION Division, told eWEEK. “In those interactions, we started to identify an opportunity to enter into the data center switching market. What we were hearing was that there really weren’t any switches on the market that had the software functionality that the hyperscalers were looking for.

“Back when they started building these networks 10 years ago, most of them decided to basically strip away the software and develop their own, because that was the only way they could integrate it into their software toolsets they were using--to manage the servers and the workloads. They wanted the same set of tools to manage the switches and the network.”

First fully microservices-based NOS

So Nokia determined that there was a great opportunity for a next-generation switch built on an open Linux foundation, “so that all of the tools used to build the cloud, manage the servers  and run the storage could also be used seamlessly across the network,” Vogelsang said.

That’s where Nokia SR Linux, launched this week, comes into play. Nokia claims it is the first fully modern microservices-based NOS, and the SR Linux NDK (NetOps development kit) exposes a complete set of programming capabilities. Applications are easily integrated through modern tools like gRPC (remote procedure call) and protobuf, with no recompiling, no language limitations and no dependencies. 

SR Linux also inherits Nokia’s battle-tested Internet protocols from the service router operating system (SROS), which is the trademark of the huge installed base of Nokia carrier-grade routers. SR Linux is in effect the industry’s first flexible and open network application development environment.

In the face of continued massive growth in demand for cloud-based applications and use of new technologies like AI, machine learning and AR/VR, the large and growing community of cloud and cloud app builders require more customization and flexibility from networking components to operate and monitor sprawling data centers. 

Network operating systems have not kept up, Nokia said. Though evolving, traditional systems are restrictive and difficult to customize, integrate and automate. For example, today’s leading systems expose limited functions for customization and even then require cumbersome integrations. Often this means rudimentary applications that require re-compiling each time the NOS vendor upgrades releases. Newer open systems attempts are nascent, challenging to operationalize and generally unproven at scale. 

“We’re pleased to see Nokia getting into the data center networking space and applying the same rigor to developing a next-generation open and easily extensible data center network operating system, while leveraging its IP routing stack that has been proven in networks globally,” Muhammad Durrani, Senior Director of Network Architecture at Equinix, said in a media advisory. "It provides a platform that network operations teams can easily adapt and build applications on, giving them the control they need to move fast.”

Data center fabric details

  • Nokia SR Linux is built on the Internet protocol suite from Nokia's proven SROS, a foundation with proven scalability, resiliency and interoperability that has been deployed globally in over 1 million routers in IP networks and the internet. Hardware agnostic and running on standard Linux, it implements a ground-up architecture around model-driven management, streaming fine-grained telemetry and modern interfaces–such as gRPC and protobuf–providing easier programmability with heightened visibility and deeper control for all applications. It offers a state-of-the-art NDK for customers’ NetOps teams to develop new applications and operational tools in their language of choice.
  • Nokia FSP is a declarative intent-based automation and operations toolkit which delivers agile and scalable network operations for SR Linux and multi-vendor data center infrastructure. The Nokia FSP integrates easily with existing operational systems and provides a unique digital sandbox for real-time fabric simulation that can be used for network design, testing and troubleshooting. FSP-certified designs decrease fabric design times and simplify Day 0, Day 1 and Day 2 planning activities. These capabilities give NetOps teams greater confidence across all stages of large fabric deployment and operations, allowing them to run more efficiently, at a lower cost and with fewer staff. 
  • Nokia’s data center switching portfolio delivers massive scale and resilience, providing a strong foundation for data center and cloud networking. The portfolio includes the Nokia 7250 Interconnect Router (IXR), Nokia 7220 IXR-H series and Nokia 7220 IXR-D series platforms, which offer a broad range of high-performance chassis-based and fixed-form-factor options for data center top of rack (TOR), leaf, spine and super-spine applications. The platforms support 400GE, 100GE, 50GE, 40GE, 25GE, 10GE and 1GE interfaces and deliver a robust and comprehensive set of capabilities spanning IP routing, layer two switching, QoS, scalable telemetry, security and model-driven management.

SR Linux, 7250 IXR and 7220 IXR-D series are available now, the FSP and 7220 IXR-H series are expected to be available in Q4 2020.

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Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...