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Pica8 switch software now with ONIE, available for free download

Pica8 switch software PicOS now supports ONIE bootloader. Pica8 also offers a limited test version for free download onto white-box switches.

SDN vendor Pica8 will offer a free version of its bare-metal switch operating system PicOS for engineers who want...

to test SDN and bare-metal switches in their labs.

The Pica8 switch software also now supports Open Network Install Environment (ONIE), an increasingly popular boot loader that simplifies the installation of the operating system on a wider variety of bare-metal switches.

Engineers can now download the free version of PicOS and run it on one of the white-box switches qualified by Pica8 and sold by its distribution partners. The free version will activate a maximum of four ports on a switch, which makes it useful for labs and proofs of concept, but not very viable in a production network.

Until now, Pica8 and its distributors sold PicOS preloaded on bare-metal switches. The free software download gives engineers a cheaper way to get started. They can buy a bare-metal switch -- the cheapest Pica8-qualified box is a $3,000 Gigabit switch from Accton -- and download the trial software onto the box.

The free software option mirrors the approach taken by many enterprise Linux vendors, allowing IT shops to try the software on their servers before buying commercial support, said Brad Casemore, research director with IDC.

"You look at a lot of the Linux shops -- these folks get other pieces of software that they just go out and download and experiment with and figure out if it's right for them," Casemore said. "[Pica8] is trying to empathize with the way those people operate. It's all part of the changing landscape in networking."

Modular Pica8 switch software: Layer 2, Layer 3 or OpenFlow packages

The Pica8 switch software is now more modular, so that when engineers decide to use the full version they can download software packages that fit their particular needs. PicOS is now available in Layer 2, Layer 3 and OpenFlow versions.

"When trying the idea of white-box/bare-metal switches, the first thing people want to know is if the quality is there," said Steve Garrison, vice president of marketing at Pica8. "They want to know if it is as good as Cisco. The first thing they try is a simple Layer 2 environment. 'Let me see how the spanning tree works. Does it converge fast if I break it? OK, now can these guys really converge and handle a data center-sized routing table?'"

The different network stacks allow engineers to deploy versions of PicOS that are optimized for use cases, either in the lab or -- if they buy the commercial license -- in production. Garrison described it as "buy what you need" as opposed to buying a monolithic switch that has more features than you want.

The addition of ONIE support on Pic0S simplifies the process of booting up the software on the growing number of bare-metal switches that support ONIE. It potentially broadens the number of switches the software can run on.

ONIE is an open source install environment that Cumulus Networks, another bare-metal switch software vendor, contributed to the Open Compute Project last year. Ultimately, ONIE makes it easier for engineers to run different operating systems -- whether from PicOS to Cumulus Linux or Big Switch's Switch Light -- on the same switch hardware.

"If you have an ONIE loader in there, you can feed that hardware platform whatever switch operating system you want," said Eric Hanselman, chief analyst with 451 Research.

Pica8, like the other software companies competing in bare-metal switching, wants to foster an environment where engineers have the freedom to choose any network operating system to run on their hardware, Casemore said. "Customers are going to have other alternatives, but that's part of the landscape they want to come into being."

Next Steps

Confused about the difference between bare-metal and white-box switches?

Open Compute Project has plans for a bare-metal switch ecosystem

Dig Deeper on Software-defined networking

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