Saturday, February 22, 2014

Dell, Cumulus, Open Source, Open Standards, and Unified Management

On Thursday, at Network Field Day 7, Arpit Joshipura described Dell's networking strategy. He started by polling the delegates to see which topics were most on their mind.
The first topic raised by many of the delegates was the recently announced Dell/Cumulus partnership (listed as Open NW on the white board), see Dell Unlocks New Era for Open Networking, Decouples Hardware and Software. Next on the list was an interest in Dell's Open Source networking strategy, understanding Dell's Differentiation strategy, and plans for L3.
Dell's open networking strategy is described at time marker 14:55 in the video. Dell was one of the first vendors to move to merchant silicon, now they are opening up the switch platform, allowing customers to choose from standard merchant silicon based switch platforms (Broadcom, Intel) and switch software (currently FTOS / Cumulus).

Arpit suggests that customers will choose Cumulus Linux as the operating system for the layer 3 features and because they can use the same expertise and tools (Puppet, Chef etc.) to manage Linux servers and the switches connecting them. He also suggested that customers would choose FTOS for legacy networks and layer 2 features. Support for the Open Networking Install Environment (ONIE) allows customers to load different switch operating systems on the hardware. This is the same model as Dell uses when selling servers, allowing customers to choose hardware (Intel/AMD), software (Windows, SUSE, Red Hat), and obtain support from Dell. Arpit summarizes the strategy, "Michael Dell did this on PCs, he did it on servers and I think we are in the best position to do it for networking."
The recent talk, It Ain't Software Defined until you Unbundle the Platform, by JR Rivers Co-Founder/CEO of Cumulus Networks, at the Silicon Valley Software Defined Networking Group captures the vision. While the number of hardware and software choices is currently limited, both the Dell and Cumulus talks are clear that Cumulus Linux is the first of many software choices, other likely future candidates include: Broadcom Fastpath, Big Switch's Switch Light Linux, Pluribus OpenNetvisor, Pica8 PicOS, etc. On the hardware front, expect a greater variety of switching platforms, ranging from familiar top of rack configurations to others that look more like servers with the CPU and memory resources to implement application functions like content distribution, caching, load balancing etc.

Open switching platforms and merchant silicon are part of a set of accelerating trends that are driving toward a common set of standards and APIs that deliver the data center wide visibility and control needed to deliver agile, self optimizing, software defined data centers - see Drivers for growth.

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