It’s abundantly clear to most anyone in the Networking game that the age old practices, technologies and mechanisms when it comes to managing your network operation and evolving your data center just aren’t cutting it. Networking has been a notoriously rigid and closed environment. The fact is that all organizations – regardless of vertical market or any size – unanimously need choice. And when it comes to your network operating system why should you be bound to the arbitrary selection made for you by a networking hardware vendor – who has no clue what your business needs are – select your software? A hardware vendor should manufacture hardware as opposed to select software that should run on top of your switch in your data center – which by the way – you are stuck with forever. That’s what Cumulus Networks realized was a glaring constraint.

When it comes to their networks, customers need to take control. Cumulus Networks recognized that this would stifle the emerging ecosystem of open white box switches. That’s what inspired the contribution of the latest iteration of open computing standards focused on the networking industry, allowing organizations a plethora of choice and flexibility when it comes to their networking hardware – and now the exact type of software that should run on it.

Let’s delve into the situation a bit more from a technical perspective… Traditionally, Ethernet switches are procured with pre-installed, captive operating systems, effectively creating networking appliances that lock end users into a vertical supply chain. While there is industry-wide discussion of a mythical “white box” network switch, this ecosystem does not exist; failing in part due to the fact that the hardware cannot accept multiple operating systems. Suffice it to say the White Box is finally here.

Enter ONIE –The Open Network Install Environment. ONIE is an open source initiative born out of original and innovative thinking and driven by a community of new generation networking leaders – all with the common goal of defining an open “install environment” for bare metal network switches, such as existing ODM switches and the upcoming OCP Network Switch design. ONIE enables a bare metal network switch ecosystem where end users finally have the opportunity to choose among different network operating systems. Founding members include Cumulus Networks, Agema, Big Switch Networks, Broadcom, Edge-Core, Mellanox Technologies, Penguin Computing and Quanta.

Why ONIE? To provide the ecosystem of networking professionals – bound by proprietary hardware and lack of control – access to an open installation environment. This allows multiple network operating system vendors to execute a compliant network OS installer. The environment facilitates process automation, scalability and ease of provisioning. Intelligent large scale provisioning is also a huge advantage when it comes to OPEX.

ONIE enables switch hardware suppliers, distributors and resellers to manage their operations based on a small number of hardware SKUs. This in turn creates economies of scale in manufacturing, distribution, stocking, and RMA enabling a thriving ecosystem of both network hardware and operating system alternatives. In addition, ONIE has features that help automate large scale provisioning scenarios, allowing users to integrate their inventory control databases from the loading dock all the way through NOS installation at first power on.

The same principles that have driven a significant amount of interest and value around Open Compute Project (OCP) servers and storage are now evolving networking technologies to become simpler to manage and agnostic, while putting the customer in the control seat.

The Open Compute networking approach gives customers a flexible, open way to manage their Data Centers. ONIE is a natural addition to OCP as it provides an open installation environment to an open hardware switch platform. With ONIE multiple network OS vendors can produce compliant network OS installers ultimately changing the rules of the age-old vendor lock in problem. End users have a choice amongst best of breed OS vendors and hardware vendors.

It’s important to consider that organizations vary as far as how they manager their Data Center and Networking operations. Some may prefer to have internal technical teams select the network OS, some would rather defer it to a Systems Integrator of their choice. There are no limitations, which is the essence of open source and the power behind ONIE.

That’s ONIE in a nutshell. Born out of original and innovative thinking. Delivered by new generation leaders!


  • Combines a boot loader with a modern Linux kernel
  • Provides an environment for installing any NOS
  • Disruptive; liberating users from a captive, pre-installed NOS
  • Helps automate large scale data center switch provisioning
  • Enables you to manage your switches like you manage your Linux server

For more information visit the ONIE website: