Cumulus Aims Linux Networking OS at Enterprise

With the latest version of Cumulus Linux, the company wants to make it easier for businesses to adopt an open networking infrastructure.

Cumulus CEO Rivers

Cumulus Networks co-founder and CEO JR Rivers says that the massive Web-scale businesses that have grown up with a cloud mindset see what his company is aiming for with its Linux-based networking operating system.

"Whether they're customers or not, they completely understand what we do, why we're doing it, and it makes sense to them," River said in an interview with eWEEK.

However, many enterprises that were born before the cloud and are steeped in the client/server model are having a more difficult time completely embracing network virtualization, he said. They know that they need to adopt a more modern IP-based model, but currently most are trying to bolt new technologies onto the infrastructure they have in place. The end results are not the cloud environment they were hoping for, Rivers said.

"What they are realizing is that what they need is a new blueprint," he said.

Cumulus on Oct. 14 unveiled Cumulus Linux 2.5, the latest version of its open networking operating system that can be deployed on a growing range of commodity hardware, offering cloud businesses and enterprises an alternative to offerings from the established networking vendors like Cisco Systems, whose IOS is tied to the company's networking gear.

Cumulus came out of stealth mode last year with an operating system that can run on bare-metal switches, enabling customers to embrace a more modern networking infrastructure without the expense of proprietary systems. Rivers said many enterprises run data center environments where complex infrastructures run specific applications. In a modern data center, complex applications run on generic infrastructures.

Cumulus Linux 2.5, which will be generally available before the end of the year, is designed to help enterprises make the move to more modern cloud-based infrastructures. The company is focusing on new features that support Layer 2 network architectures, including modern data center tools like active-active multi-link chassis aggregation (MLAG) and active-active first-hop redundancy protocol, he said.

In addition, the company is offering validated solutions to make it easier for enterprises to deploy particular applications that Cumulus officials say are among the most common in software-designed data center environments. The validated solutions are aimed at implementations of VMware's vSphere, big data efforts with Apache Hadoop and OpenStack cloud orchestration. The solutions are designed to make it easier to launch deployments with Cumulus Linux, and include step-by-step instructions and design guides for each environment that address the needs of both system administrators and network administrators, Rivers said.

Customers can leverage the validated solutions in a full implementation or through a free 30-day trial, in which they can remotely access via the Internet a small implementation to test the technologies. Cumulus can spin up the infrastructure and, after the 30-day time period, break it down and get it ready for another trial, he said.

"It lets customers see where they're going to land when they're done" implementing a cloud-based infrastructure, Rivers said.

One of the promises of software-defined networking (SDN) is the ability to run the control plane, networking tasks—including firewalls and load balancing—and operating system on commodity hardware, making the network infrastructure more affordable as well as more programmable, agile and adaptive. Infonetics Research analysts in September, in a report on SDN in the data center, noted that the use of white-box switches—particularly among such Web-based companies as Amazon and Google—is growing rapidly, and that by 2018, such switches will account for 31 percent of total SDN-capable switch revenue.

Rivers said that over the past year, Cumulus has partnered with vendors such as Dell and Penguin Computing, expanding the reach of Cumulus Linux. There already are more than 1 million ports running the OS in production in a range of segments, from Web-scale and enterprise environments to service providers, high tech, and education and research.