liberate your network with ONIE

ONIE the Open Network Install Environment can liberate your network

With the rise of white box environments network equipment is being liberated from captive pre-installed network OSes. You can now choose your bare metal switch hardware and operating system separately and then change it trivially later. Surely this creates chaos and a compatibility nightmare I hear you say.


“Scot a variant spelling of ony (which is a Scots word for any)”

Enter the Open Network Install Environment (ONIE, pronounced oh-nee). This initiative defines an ‘open install’ environment for bare metal switches. Originally created by Cumulus Networks, ONIE was contributed to the Open Compute Project back in June 2014.

Essentially ONIE is an enhanced boot loader utilizing facilities in a Linux/BusyBox environment. This lightweight Linux operating system allows users to install target network OSes as part of data centre provisioning. You can now fettle your network hardware like your servers. Many of the switch operating systems are based on Linux, so once installed they act exactly like your servers. Automationtastic.

ONIE logoThere are numerous hardware vendors supporting ONIE include Agema, Broadcom, Dell, Edge-Core, Penguin Computing, Interface Masters, Mellanox, and Quanta. Network OS vendors supporting ONIE include Big Switch, Broadcom, Cumulus, and Mellanox.

How does ONIE work?

ONIE enable switch come with ONIE pre installed. Thus if you have your install environment setup all you need to do is turn the hardware on. The flow looks like this:

Initial boot

Boot loader

  • Low level boot
  • Boots ONIE from flash

ONIE (supplied by HW vendor)

  • Linux OS with BusyBox
  • Configures management interfaces
  • Gets and executes installer from network
  • Provides tools and environment for installer

Fetches Installer provided by OS vendor

Network OS (supplied by OS vendor

  • OS install


OS Installed

Boot loader

  • Low level boot
  • Boots ONIE from flash

ONIE (supplied by HW vendor)

  • Still present in flash but not invoked
  • Visible in GRUB menu
  • Can be called upon to uninstall/re-install main OS

Network OS (supplied by OS vendor

  • Boots switch into OS
  • Configures ASICs
  • Runs network protocols
  • Provides CLI

Installer images

ONIE can pick up the Network Operating System (NOS) to be installed in a variety of different ways:

  • DHCP/a web server with DHCP options
  • DHCP/a web server without DHCP options
  • A web server with no DHCP
  • FTP or TFTP without a web server
  • Local file installation
  • USB

This video gives a simple demonstration on how to install a NOS with ONIE.

Compatible bare metal switches

As per above there are a numerous HW vendors that create bare metal switches that are compatible with ONIE. Check out our ONIE enable switches that we stock.

ONIE from the command line

There are ONIE commands that can be run from the command line. An example being (on Cumulus Linux) you might want to do a full OS binary re-install or upgrade to a switch. For example executing:

$ sudo onie-select -i

Will instruct ONIE to enter install mode on next boot instead of booting the OS as normal. The two main commands with links to their respective man pages are:



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