My department is wanting to test out new Utilities Network, and we where curious about finding a way to circumvent the SDE requirement when creating a utilities network. At present we would need to run the network in an enterprise SDE, and I was hoping I might be able to test features out before I push creating the network in our SDEs. Normally this type of stuff would be done on a replicate file geodatabase, but it would seem that the Utilities Network requires an SDE to run. Is there a way I can simply locally create a SDE to which to run this, or perhaps trick ArcGIS into thinking a file geodatabase is an SDE?
You can create a Personal SDE gdb (Desktop geodatabase), which can have a maximum capacity of 10 GB (as it has SQL Server Express as backend database).
This comes free with ArcGIS Desktop and won't need any separate licensing..
The licensing for the new Utility Network Management Extension (UNME) is done through ArcGIS Enterprise. However, a lot of the functionality that is required to be in place before one can publish a Utility Network (Branch Versioning as an example) requires the use of an enterprise geodatabase rather than a file or desktop geodatabase. So in order for your organization to really be able to test out the UNME, you need a development environment that meets these requirements.
My personal recommendation here is to setup a new enterprise geodatabase (you can use the Create Enterprise Geodatabase tool in ArcGIS Pro) for use as a development environment to test with. But to answer your question, no there isn't a way to get around this enterprise geodatabase requirement if you want to be able to work with the UNME.