Cumulus Networks and Data Center Linux

Cumulus Networks, a startup previously cruising in stealth mode, has announced a version of Linux for datacenter administrators who want to merge customized networking hardware with their own operating system and tools, rather than rely on systems offered by a vendor.

The networking market is currently dominated by companies such as Cisco Systems and Juniper Networks that bind highly specialized hardware to highly specialized operating systems and networking functions, which can lock customers into a particular vendor.

Cumulus Linux is designed to add network-operations capabilities to ordinary servers to allow end-user companies to choose their own operating system for networking hardware, just as they do for ordinary servers. It is a genuine distribution of Linux, according to the company, but includes functions to manage route tables, arp tables, acls, interfaces and a raft of other networking functions.

With those abilities and the usual ability to interact with fans, sensors and other hardware through device drivers, Cumulus Linux becomes both a network operating system along the lines of CiscoIOS or Juniper’s Junos operating system.

The control and management planes within the operating system are standard Linux, derived from Debian, with the added ability to manage standard Laye 2 and Layer 3 control protocols, routing protocols, spanning tree, LLDP and more. The platform uses existing tools such as puppet, chef and cfengine to configure network hardware, thereby “enabling the latest leaf/spine and network virtualization architectures while interoperating with traditional architecture,” according to the company.

Once the OS is installed, customers can use any of the 250 applications bundled with the OS to configure and manage a network, install their own choice of network-management software on top of Cumulus Linux or develop their own networking software to run directly on the network hardware.

It also allows network managers to use or write their own scripts to collect raw data and analyze it remotely, or to install any Linux-compatible software agent on the server. The end result should be the same kinds of benefits available to those who buy bare-metal server hardware and install their own customized software stack, at least according to Cumulus.

Being able to choose an operating system for networking hardware will promote the development of an ecosystem of networking hardware and software that allows customers to make their own choices about both networking functions and monitoring tools, as has been the case in the computer server market, where hardware is commoditized and often virtualized to become almost invisible.

The operating system only runs on a limited number of systems listed in the company’s hardware compatibility list, but supports standard networking processors from Broadcom, Intel and Marvel using PPC, X86 or MIPS CPUs. Cumulus supplies a set of third-party and specialty tools from system OEMs as well as its own software. The OS is in limited-release beta testing; participation is by application only; the product is already being used at cloud-providers including Dreamhost and Fastly, according to Cumulus.


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