Open Network Linux: A Change Agent For Innovation

Driven by speed, economy, and the need for vendor freedom, many companies have been developing custom NOS (Network Operating System) on open networking platforms. To further advance network innovation, OCP (Open Compute Project) has been working to standardize open networking software and hardware. OCP’s Open Network Linux enables organizations to rapidly innovate and build modern, modular, next-generation NOS stacks by leveraging open source software on open network switches.

alt Open Network Linux, A Change Agent For Innovation

What Is Open Network Linux?

Open Network Linux is an OCP networking project. It is a Linux distribution for open hardware switches, namely network forwarding devices built from commodity components. It features an open networking hardware platforms with a unique architecture for pluggable forwarding stack and device management & programming software. It is the basic component for consumers who want to build NOS on top of open networking switches. Based on Open Network Linux, networking solutions can provide speed, freedom, and commercial efficiency and are now adopted by hundreds of data center organizations, service providers, mainstream enterprises, and SaaS/cloud providers. Consumers just need an ONIE (Open Network Install Environment) to install Open Network Linux onto on-board flash memory.

What’s the Competitiveness of Open Network Linux?

Over the years, many bare metal operating systems have emerged, such as Big Switch Network’s Switch Light, Cumulus Network’s Cumulus Linux, Broadcom’s Fast Path. Open Network Linux is a basic operating system that contains only example packet forwarding code. It is mainly expected that you or other projects will write their own packet forwarding code. Open Network Linux has two main goals. First, Open Network Linux aims to become a development platform for tinkers and DYI types to build their own forwarding applications. Second, Open Network Linux desires to be a useful component for building complete commercial solutions on top of bare metal switches. For example, the Switch Light OS of Big Switch Network is based on Open Network Linux. Therefore, the expectation is that people deploying Open Network Linux will deploy or build their own packet forwarding application on top. In addition, Open Network Linux expects that 3rd parties will provide binary-only forwarding applications (e.g., a traditional L2/L3 stack, an OpenFlow agent, etc.) over time. For example, the Open Route Cache or ‘orc’ code supports traditional L3 routing, and the Indigo binary works as an OpenFlow agent.

Supporters of Open Network Linux

There are many companies around the world that support Open Network Linux. For example, Finisar, Freescale, Accton, and Interface Masters provide platform drivers for Open Network Linux. Big Switch Networks and Open Networking add forwarding agents for Open Network Linux. And its hardware support companies include Edge-Core (Accton), Quanta, Dell, Mellanox, Netberg, Inventec, Celestica, HPE, DNI, Ingrasys, Alpha Networks, and a few unnamed/upcoming vendors. Open Network Linux is at the forefront of system support, as it continues to work with the partners and the community, it will further push the boundaries of innovation together.

Why Use Open Network Linux?

In the previous paragraphs we discussed so much about Open Network Linux, so why should we use Open Network Linux? There are several reasons to tell. Firstly, Open Network Linux helps the ecosystem focus on innovation. It helps to deal with many annoying software details to run an OCP switch and build platform drivers with common value asset. Secondly, Open Network Linux enables a reference NOS implementation. Hardware without software is not useful, it helps to package up details and best practices into one place. Thirdly, Open Network Linux help bootstrap the open ecosystem and OCP adoption. It allows commercial companies and DYI folks to build OCP based products faster.


Open Network Linux is a Linux distribution for bare metal switches (e.g., 10gbe ethernet switch, 100gbe ethernet switch, etc.). It supports OCP and non-OCP switches, ORC forwarding agent, and Indigo-based OpenFlow agent. For two years, we have witnessed open hardware and software have been shared with consumers, technologists, and vendors. As Open Network Linux continues to gain attention as a popular distribution for open network hardware, it will result in less integration work for hardware and software vendors, fewer bugs, and increased reliability as ONL based products are shipped to consumers.

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A Guide to Bare Metal Switch

Bare metal switch is the foundation for an inevitable shift in data center networks. Its bare metal switching technology has driven the development of large cloud data centers with a simplified supply chain as the economic driver. But in essence, it is just a great physical network with additional benefits of a rich ecosystem that supports automation and monitoring tools and improves economics.

What Is Bare Metal Switch?

A bare metal switch is a device that allows for the decoupling of hardware and software on the networking stack in order to implement abstract network architectures. You have all the rights to choose the applications you need to run, the network operating system that best supports the applications or best fits your operational environment, and then choose the hardware on which to run it all. A bare metal switch comes with a boot-loader called the open network install environment (ONIE), which allows you to load an operating system onto the switch. There’s a multitude of operating systems you can load, such as Broadcom’s FastPath, Big Switch Networks’ Switch Light, Cumulus Networks’ Cumulus Linux, and Pica8’s PicOS.

altA Guide to Bare Metal Switch

What’s the Vendor of Bare Metal Switch?

Bare metal switches are from original design manufacturers (ODMs) with no network operating system loaded on them. Dell is the first OEM to embrace metal networking and provide global comprehensive IT capabilities. Bare metal manufacturers include companies such as Edge-Core (Accton), Mellanox, Quanta QCT, Alpha Networks, and Delta Computer. And its network operating system support and service come from the third-party vendors such as Cumulus, IPinFusion, Pica8 PicOS or BigSwitch. Cumulus Network is one of the largest network system providers and now powers over one million ports worldwide. Enterprises, education, government, and technology entities around the world have adopted bare metal networking to avoid vendor lock-in, increase performance and significantly reduce total cost, both capital and operational.

What’s the Price of Bare Metal Switch?

Pricing in the networking industry is often shrouded in mystery. It is common for traditional networking vendors to extract 4 times average sales price range from SMBs to large operators. In contrast, large data center operators purchase the same switch at an 85% discount. With the revolution in bare metal switches, pricing is becoming transparent and simple. For instance, Edge-Core Network offers a 48 x 10Gb + 6 x 40Gb bare metal switch, which is a 10gbe switch with 72 10Gb ports, has an MSRP of $5,400. Similarly, FS.COM offers an equivalent 48 x 10Gb + 6 x 40Gb bare metal switch for a street price of $2,999. Now, with bare metal networking, data center operators of all sizes can procure high performance, high-quality switches at price points, regardless of volume, usually only afforded to large operators.

What’s the Difference Between Bare Metal and White Box Switches?

A white box switch is often used interchangeably with a bare metal switch, there is nearly no difference between them. A white box switch can be considered as a bare metal switch but it can be divided into three types. The first one, the operating system and hardware in the white box switch are completely separated, it only provides hardware but no operating system, so it can be sold just as a bare metal switch. The second one, the white box switch is already installed an operating system and customers are allowed to choose different hardware for their own preferences. The third one, the white box switch can be sold with hardware and installed OS with or without brand labels. It can be seen that both bare metal switches and white box switches provide flexibility and widen the choice for online buyers

How to Manually Configure Bare Metal Switch?

Bare metal switches normally are from vendors such as Edge-Core (Accton), Dell, HP, Quanta Mesh (QCT), Penguin, Mellanox, Agema, Inventec. Here is the simple provisioning process of a bare metal switch.

Step 1: After unboxing the network switch and powering it up, the switch starts GRUB boot loader. If there is no OS on the switch, it will boot into ONIE.
Step 2: Depending on the version of ONIE, you might see the GRUB loader of ONIE. Remember ONIE is on a read-only flash in the switch and has its own GRUB and boot-loader. Choose the Install OS option.
Step 3: After the complete boot of ONIE, the switch starts looking for IP through its DHCP client. ONIE doesn’t support static IP. If there is not any specific DHCP option for boot-loader file, ONIE will start looking for default files and location to download the switch OS.
Step 4: We need to get a network OS to load on the switch. The current available bare metal network OS compatible are Cumulus Linux, Pica8, ONL, Ipinfusion, HP. Save the file on your PC or a server. A switch will access the file over TFTP/ FTP / HTTP.
Step 5: Setup the server. You can use the traditional tftpd32 application or simple windows IIS to serve the file. We kept the file in tftpd32 for simplicity.
Step 6: Use the install_url command to load the OS on the switch ONIE. ONIE will start accessing and downloading the file.
Step 7: Now the installer script has installed the ONL. Switch reboots and you will see GRUB is changed to ONL boots up and reaches to the login screen.


Over the years, the bare metal switch market has made progress by adapting to proven systems and processes, and by daring to disrupt traditional business models to provide fast, easy, and affordable networks. Today, open networking can support global product offerings from multiple vendors that support a wide range of network operating systems. If you would like to bring a bare metal switch to your network, contact us at FS.COM. We are here providing various port switches like 32 port switch, 48 port switch etc. just for your needs.

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