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The future of networking is a NOS on your choice of bare metal, says Cumulus Networks

John Dix | June 24, 2014
If Cumulus Networks has its way, companies will use its Cumulus Linux to decouple the network operating system from the hardware and break free of the integrated approach that has driven the industry for decades. Network World Editor in Chief John Dix talked about the vision with Co-Founder and CEO JR Rivers.

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If Cumulus Networks has its way, companies will use its Cumulus Linux to decouple the network operating system from the hardware and break free of the integrated approach that has driven the industry for decades. Network World Editor in Chief John Dix talked about the vision with Co-Founder and CEO JR Rivers.

Where do you see opportunity for Cumulus?

The industry has gotten to the point where standard silicon supports every network function, whether it's routing or load balancing or security. And we recognized the industry was likely to change from being built around appliances -- whether it's a Cisco network switch or an F5 load balancer -- to being a software business that leveraged industry-standard hardware.

We decided a company like Cisco would find it very hard to change their business model to reflect the new perspective, and that you needed to start a company to get there because it would mean making different decisions around software, around your sales channel, your cost strategies and everything. And that's why we started Cumulus.

You describe your product as a Linux operating system for network equipment. Expand on that.

A Linux distribution like Red Hat comes with a whole set of tools and utilities and Red Hat makes sure they all work together -- everything is compiled with the right libraries and the build tools all work and all of that stuff. Then they release and maintain that, make sure patches make it out to the customer base, etc., and then also enhance the foundation to inch the whole movement along.

That's what we do with Cumulus Linux, but specifically with a network slant. So, for instance, the version of the kernel we started our distribution with was based on version 3.2.20-something. And a little bit later the Linux community added VXLAN to the kernel, which is an SDN transport technology. So we took that technology, we worked with the kernel communities to add it into the mainstream Linux, and then also back-ported it to our released version so customers could enjoy that functionality earlier than they would if they had to wait for our next big major release.

We're focused on data center Layer 2, Layer 3 networking, including routing protocols like OSPF and BGP, bridging functionality with VLANs and multi-chassis link aggregation, SDN technologies like VXLAN, and monitoring technologies like sFlow. So we either pull in open source packages or develop them as necessary to enhance the network functionality of the Linux distribution.

As a distribution, everything we do that involves an open-source package gets pushed back upstream to that package maintainer, so the next time around it's available to all comers.

 

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