Open Network Install Environment (ONIE) Introduction

The open network install environment (ONIE) is used today by several different vendors and is gaining broad acceptance in the white box switching community. It allows end-users and channel partners to install the target network OS (network operating system) as part of data center provisioning, in the fashion that servers are provisioned. This post will introduce open network install environment (ONIE) and how it works.

What’s Open Network Install Environment (ONIE)?

Introduced by Cumulus Networks, open network install environment (ONIE) is the combination of a boot loader and a small Linux operating system for bare metal network switches. It has been pre-installed as firmware on bare metal network switches where the software and hardware are sold separately, allowing customers to freely choose a combination of hardware and network OS. Therefore, it is favored by a number of white box network equipment providers. It supports installation from a variety of sources over a network using IPv4, IPv6 and TFTP, or even locally from a USB flash drive. Open network install environment (ONIE) enables switch hardware suppliers to manage their operations based on a small number of hardware SKUs. This creates economies of scale in manufacturing and distribution enabling a thriving ecosystem of both network hardware and network OS alternatives.

open networking

How does Open Network Install Environment (ONIE) work?

Open network install environment (ONIE) provides an environment for automated software download, installation and provisioning. The followings are how it works:

open network install environment role

1. When the bare metal switch is powered up for the first time, open network install environment (ONIE) will boots onto the local switch CPU. And its purpose is to load the network OS installer rather than be the network OS.

2. Open network install environment (ONIE) finds the switch management Ethernet interface (the interface used to manage the switch rather than interfaces used for data center traffic) and configures it Note that open network install environment (ONIE) doesn’t know anything about switch ASICs.

switch management Ethernet interface

3. when connection to the management network is completed, open network install environment (ONIE) will looks for an available network OS installer from a local USB drive or out on the network via HTTP, FTP or TFTP.

4. Once discovered, the network OS installer is transferred to the switch, and open network install environment (ONIE) executes it. As the installer runs, the network OS is installed onto the switch.

5. Remember the open network install environment (ONIE) is still available after the above mentioned installation. But it will not be used until the switch user uninstalls a network OS or installs a different network OS. The following shows other roles of open network install environment (ONIE) in networks:

open network install environment functions


With open network install environment (ONIE), white box switch users can run any compatible network OS they choose without having to change the switch itself. And switch & network OS vendors can focus on switches and operating systems without being distracted by the minutiae of loading a network OS onto a specific switching platform.