Dell Brings Pluribus Network Linux OS to Open Switches

Pluribus joins such vendors as Cumulus, Midokura and Big Switch Networks in porting their software to Dell's "brite-box" hardware.

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Dell is adding Pluribus Networks' new Linux-based network operating system to the growing list of third-party software that can run on its portfolio of open network switches.

The two companies announced June 11 that Pluribus will port its Open Netvisor Linux OS onto Dell's family of Open Networking 10G/40G switches, including the S6000-ON and S4048-ON. Pluribus, which targets its Netvisor operating system at cloud service providers, joins other network software vendors—such as Cumulus Networks (Linux-based OS), Midokura (network virtualization software) and Big Switch Networks (SDN platform)—to bring its software to Dell's Open Networking switches.

Dell introduced the Open Networking initiative early last year as a way of giving networking customers greater flexibility in everything from speeds to the software they want to run on the switches and also to push back at the growing trend fueled by the rise of software-defined networking (SDN) and network-functions virtualization (NFV) of using low-cost commodity white-box and bare-metal switches in the data center.

With this strategy, Dell can offer switches that are less expensive and more open than traditional networking hardware. They're more expensive than white boxes, but offer support and services from a tier-one vendor that the less-expensive systems from original-design manufacturers (ODMs) cannot provide.

"Dell wants to fundamentally change the nature of networking by focusing on openness and the disaggregation of hardware and software," Tom Burns, vice president and general manager of networking and converged infrastructure at Dell, said in a statement.

The Open Networking switches use the Open Network Install Environment (ONIE) to enable the third-party software to run on Dell's hardware. Other system makers, including Hewlett-Packard and Juniper Networks, are pursuing similar strategies of offering a choice of software on branded hardware, which Gartner analysts are calling "brite boxes."

Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers has famously boasted that his company is successfully beating back the white-box challenge, but the market for them continues to expand. As data centers become more software-defined, the interest in white-boxes—for servers, storage and networking—grows, according to analysts. Infonetics Research analysts in March found that bare-metal switches—hardware that is not locked into a specific operating system or other software—accounted for 11 percent of the data center ports shipped last year, and that number will grow to nearly 25 percent by 2019.

Pluribus pointed to a recent Gartner report that noted that by 2018 white boxes and brite boxes, combined, will account for more than 10 percent of global data center port shipments, an increase over the 6 percent in the first half of 2014.

Pluribus created Open Netvisor Linux for the partnership with Dell, according to Sunay Tripathi, Pluribus founder and CTO.

"Netvisor itself is nothing new," Tripathi wrote in a post on the company blog. "We have been shipping Netvisor on a variety of platforms for over a year. Open Netvisor Linux, however, is something new. We created a slimmed-down version of Netvisor, based it on a Linux platform, and optimized it for our big cloud and [mega-scale data center] customers."

The new OS—based on Canonical's Ubuntu Linux distribution—is designed to give cloud providers a scalable, distributed SDN controller architecture that offers interoperability with the Layer 2 and IP/BGP (Border Gateway Protocol) already being used. It includes standard management interfaces and Linux-based development tools, according to Pluribus officials.

"With this combination of Pluribus and Dell, we are demonstrating that the value of SDN goes far beyond disaggregation of hardware and software alone," Pluribus President and CEO Kumar Srikantan said in a statement. "Cloud providers need security, monitoring and virtualization built in at the architectural level to enable them to compete with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and other hyperscale cloud providers, and that is exactly what we are delivering."

The companies will release pricing and packaging details in the third quarter.