The Open Network Install Environment (ONIE) project is under going rapid expansion as it closes in on its first anniversary as a public project.

Since ONIE’s introduction in Spring of 2013, the project has seen wide spread adoption throughout the bare metal switching and computing community.  ONIE’s deployment model is clearly resonating with data center operators and hardware vendors alike.  As ONIE’s vibrant user and development community grows, with the backing of the Open Compute Project, the future looks very bright indeed.


ONIE is an open source initiative that enables a bare metal network switch ecosystem where end users finally have the opportunity to choose among different network operating systems.  ONIE enables switch hardware suppliers to manage their operations based on a small number of hardware SKUs.  This in turn creates economies of scale in manufacturing and distribution enabling a thriving ecosystem of both network hardware and operating system alternatives.  See previous blog post.

Where ONIE began:

ONIE incubated at Cumulus Networks in early 2013 as we looked at new and improved ways to provision bare metal networking hardware in a modern, mega-scale data center.  The official coming out happened in early May when the first git commit went into the ONIE repository on GitHub.

The major watershed moment for ONIE occurred later that month when I presented and demonstrated ONIE at the Open Compute Project’s Engineering Workshop hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During the presentation you could see on people’s faces that times were a-changing in the networking world.  Soon after the Engineering Workshop, the OCP Incubation Committee brought ONIE into the Open Compute Networking Project.

Where ONIE is now:

What started as a small project, providing a better operating system install environment for PowerPC based bare metal switches, has flourished into a mature and vibrant community.  Together, with a growing cadre of hardware vendors, the ONIE user and development community now supports x86 and PowerPC CPU architectures for over 20 different switching platforms with more added every month.  The adoptance of ONIE by the hardware vendor community has been equally tremendous.  Without their support the project would have stalled out, but clearly they recognized the value proposition in creating an open, bare metal switching ecosystem.  Today over 7 major hardware vendors have more than 20 different ONIE compatible bare metal SKUs available.

Where ONIE is going:

Recently the Open Compute Project and the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) announced the first ONIE certification lab, hosted and operated by the UTSA.  ONIE certification is an exciting chapter in the ongoing story of the ONIE project.  With certification comes numerous benefits for end users and hardware vendors alike.  With ONIE certified hardware, end users will know their hardware purchases are ready for mega-scale deployment.  This allows users the freedom to choose the right hardware for their designs, knowing they will be able to orchestrate the network deployment automatically.  For hardware vendors, ONIE certification adds an additional level of quality assurance to their hardware offerings.  The testing plans and methodologies developed by the UTSA will be publicly available for the hardware vendors to verify current and future hardware designs.

Beyond Switching:

As the adoption of ONIE on switching platforms rockets forward, many in the ONIE community are talking about using ONIE for server deployments as well.  That is a very exciting prospect indeed!

As exciting as that is, I must recall the words of Winston Churchill:

“It is always wise to look ahead, but difficult to look further than you can see” — Winston Churchill 

The future is often unclear and it will arrive when it arrives. However, several things are very clear:

  • ONIE is here today
  • ONIE is making a difference
  • ONIE is changing the way IT views bare metal hardware

Tune in Wednesday, July 16th at 10:30am, PST for a live discussion about ONIE and the open source initiative. Learn more here