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What is Linux? A powerful component of modern data centers

Zeus Kerravala | Aug. 15, 2017
Linux has long been the basis of commercial networking devices, but is becoming more prevalent on its own in enterprise infrastructure

Linux itself, rather than working through an abstraction layer, provides direct access to routing and forwarding tables, notification systems, telemetry information and different interfaces. That can make Linux more flexible, and with the support of the large Linux community, potentially quicker to respond to the need for new services than a commercial vendor might be.

There should be no concern that a Linux based platform is a “lesser” device. Linux has an excellent ecosystem with mature APIs as well as an agile networking stack optimized for the modernized data center. For example Linux is designed with separate control and data forwarding planes making it easy to drop in software-defined networking architectures because separating those planes is the basis of SDN.

Another element that Linux-based products can bring to the network is that the switches can be managed with open-source, policy-based automation and orchestration tools such as Ansible, Puppet and Chef. There are roughly 25 of these tools available with support for different flavors of Unix but all of them also support Linux.


Linux-based products

Over the past decade there has been an explosion in the number of Linux-based products that have had a major impact in the IT space including:

  • Kubernetes: Container cluster manager from Google
  • OpenStack: Software platform for infrastructure as a service cloud platforms
  • Open Daylight: Linux Foundation’s java based project to accelerate the adoption of SDNs and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV)
  • Docker: Software container program
  • Open vSwitch (OVS): Distributed virtual multilayer switch to provide a switching stack inside virtualization environments. OVS in particular is interesting because it offers a richer set of network features than the basic capabilities in the Linux kernel. If OVS is even moderately successful, it could be an excellent precursor of the shape of things to come in networking.

Having the ability to manage, configure and troubleshoot Linux networks is becoming necessary if organizations want to take advantage of any of these projects in production environments..

Linux is certainly becoming more widely adopted across all areas of technology. Networking has been slow to embrace Linux but the more network-dependent businesses get, the more the networking and server domains are being pushed together. For network engineers, being able to access the native Linux shell enables them to utilize tools and software that once were available only for servers. This makes it much easier to orchestrate network services with changes to servers and applications.

Also, the open nature of Linux has created a massive community that is actively involved in finding new ways of using it. Containers have largely evolved through community involvement. As the number of Linux proficient network engineers grows, so will the use cases.


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