Cumulus CEO Rivers Steps Down to Take CTO Slot

Josh Leslie, vice president of sales, will take over the top position at the company, which offers a Linux-based OS for open network infrastructures.

Cumulus executives

JR Rivers, who helped found Cumulus Networks six years ago, is stepping aside as CEO of the company to become Cumulus' CTO.

Rivers will be replaced as CEO by Josh Leslie, an 18-year veteran of the IT industry who has been with Cumulus for less than a year after stints with such companies as VMware, Commvault Systems and—before coming to Cumulus—Instart Logic.

Company officials announced the executive change March 21.

Cumulus offers a Linux-based network operating system—Cumulus Linux—that can run on industry-standard hardware. Disaggregating the software—including the operating system—from the underlying hardware is a central part of the network virtualization push going on in an industry that is changing rapidly with the introduction of such trends as software-defined networking (SDN) and network-functions virtualization (NFV).

Enabling the OS and other software to run on multiple hardware platforms offers customers a broad range of flexibility in their network infrastructures and a way to drive down costs. Customers can run a consistent lineup of software on industry-standard systems from multiple OEMs and original design manufacturers (ODM) rather than getting locked into a single vendor whose OS is tied to its more expensive systems.

According to company officials, more than 400 organizations run Cumulus Linux, and the OS can run on more than 30 hardware platforms from such vendors as Dell, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Supermicro, Quanta and Penguin Computing.

Cumulus also offers Cumulus VX, community supported open-source software that enables cloud administrators and network engineers to test the vendor's technology in a virtual environment, and Cumulus RMP (Rack Management Platform), a network OS for out-of-band network switches.

According to Rivers (right, in photo), the decision to name a new CEO came about when Nolan Leake, Cumulus' co-founder and CTO, indicated last month that "he was ready to start a slow transition out of company operations."

"While I'm comforted that Nolan will be around for a while, I was also stuck with a huge problem," Rivers wrote in a post on the company blog. "I needed to find a great CTO. As I thought about qualifications and candidates, I kept coming back to 'JR, you know you really want this job.'"

He said he had taken over as CEO after the company closed its Series A round of funding because neither he nor Leake wanted to hand over the company to a "'professional CEO.' To that end, I took on the responsibility. In the early days I was able to stay involved with the technology and products; however, as the company has progressed, I've had less time to spend in the areas that motivated me to start the company."

Leake's decision to reduce his involvement in the company opened the door for Rivers to find a way to get back to being closer to the technology and customers. His goal never had been to be a CEO. Having Leslie already at the company made the decision to shift into the CTO position even easier.

Leslie has been with Cumulus since June 2015 as vice president of sales. During that time, he has helped Cumulus more than double its customer base and expand its reach with Fortune 100 companies. In addition, he came with a broad range of experience and a stated desire to become a CEO.

"I realized then that he would attack the role with the same energy that I looked forward to throwing into product pursuits," Rivers wrote. "We would both be finding level."

In his own post on the company blog, Leslie wrote about how he first met Rivers and the Cumulus team four years ago right after the Series A funding, at a time when the company had one beta customer.

"Despite this uncertainty, it was immediately obvious that this company was onto something big," he wrote. "The notion of disaggregating networks—enabling customers to build highly automated infrastructure and breaking up the legacy vendors' monopolies—was revolutionary but yet so obvious. I knew I wanted to be a part of it."

That wouldn't happen for a few years—Rivers at the time told Leslie that the technology needed time to grow on its own, free from too much of a sales push. Rivers' decision worked, Leslie wrote.

"Looking forward, the company is incredibly well positioned for success," he wrote. "After years of hardcore product development and market education about the beauty of open networking, customers and partners are now showing up in droves and working with Cumulus Networks to build scalable infrastructure. … As I look out to 2016 and beyond, I believe we will continue to redefine this industry."