Cumulus Networks on Wednesday rolled out what some are calling a Cisco-killer. Bold words, but there may be a sliver of truth to them as the Cumulus Linux operating system for data center networking makes its way into several next-generation service providers and enterprises and finds broad industry support.
Veteran networking engineers from Cisco and VMware founded the company in 2010. Led by CEO JR Rivers and CTO Nolan Leake, the company has raised more than $15 million in venture funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Battery Ventures, Peter Wagner and four of the original VMware founders.
Cumulus Linux promises fast, easy and affordable networking. Industry watchers agree that it fills the void for a truly stand-alone network operating system. Cumulus contends that these benefits are helping its customers fulfill the promise of the software-defined data center.
"Linux revolutionized the compute side of the data center over the past 15 years," said Rivers, who as well as CEO is co-founder of Cumulus Networks. "Having a common OS broke vendor lock-in, drove down server hardware cost, allowed scale-out architectures, and provided a common platform for innovations like virtualization.
"Meanwhile, networking remained stagnant. Innovation is finally coming to the network, and we are bringing that same transformational impact that Linux has had on data center economics and innovation to the networking side of the house."
Transforming the Data Center
Enterprises and service providers operating modern data centers face three interlocking challenges: creating infrastructure that is higher capacity, less complex and affordable. They need to address those three challenges in a way that supports new, more fluid application architectures with great agility and efficiency. The network is vital to making this all work.
According to Cumulus, legacy networking solutions are flawed for numerous reasons. They are proprietary with tightly integrated hardware and software. They are expensive and complex. There are no common tool sets to orchestrate, automate and monitor them. And they are prone to human error.
Cumulus aims to solve these problems by providing the network operating system. The company said customers can take advantage of the price-performance of so-called "industry-standard" or "bare- metal" hardware as well as the agility and automation of the new generation of "software-defined" data center software and native Linux-based tool sets.
"Andreessen Horowitz is betting heavily on the transformation of the data center from something that was traditionally hardware-centric to a new world where the intelligence lives in software. Nicira was an investment that addressed a key part of this, and now Cumulus Networks is filling another critical piece on the networking side," said Peter Levine, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz.
"The recent announcement from Facebook's Open Compute Project underscored this need for a Linux OS for networking. Clearly the need is massive. And the opportunities for enterprises and service providers to drive massive new efficiencies in the data center is massive as well."
A Necessary Step
Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research, told us what Cumulus is doing isn't unique -- other vendors are out there doing it. But, he added, these types of solutions are important.
"While the original intention of software-defined networks was that people would use commodity switches from ODMs [original device manufacturers], I don't think that model scales because it's very difficult to get support for that," Kerravala said.
"This class of vendors offers a software overlay, and an operating system that goes in the box. So if you are Google or Amazon you are more likely to write your own operating system, but if you are one of the other million companies out there looking at SDNs, having that software on top of it is actually one of the missing pieces from the pure ODM model."
Cumulus has support from the likes of Broadcom, VMware and a slew of analysts, including Enterprise Strategy Group and IDC.
"Pressure is mounting on data center networks to provide an agile and dynamic infrastructure that is more closely aligned with the needs of burgeoning application workloads and changing traffic patterns," said Brad Casemore, research director for Data Center Networks at IDC. "With the introduction of its Cumulus Linux, Cumulus Networks will respond to those needs in conjunction with its partner ecosystem, placing an early emphasis on hyperscale and cloud data centers in continuous pursuit of IT agility and [capital expenditure] and [operational expenditure] efficiencies."
Cumulus Linux is commercially available now through an annual subscription-pricing model that includes support and maintenance, and scales based on the switch performance capacity.