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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.

So they took Linux, which had all the right functionality, but then put a Cisco [CLI] around the outside of Linux so someone that was comfortable with a Cisco branch router could just pick up a Vyatta router and go off and run. We did it almost the other way around. We said in the modern data center, Linux is the lingua franca, so we want to make sure people are able to leverage and use Linux as much as humanly possible and not hide it from them.

I suppose you guys had the opportunity to position yourselves as an SDN player as that started to heat up, but you resisted. Why?

There was no clear definition of what SDN really meant. Everybody was talking about two things. One was network virtualization, which is the ability to partition a segment of connectivity in a programmatic and provisioning way. And the other was network function virtualization, which is this concept of taking a router or a firewall and, instead of it being a big metal appliance, essentially making it a VM that can be moved around throughout the system. And we're neither of those. So tying ourselves to that crowd just didn't really make sense.

Google's big mantra has been complex applications on generic infrastructure. And that's really become the current idea of the software-defined data center. So as a customer I can go bunch of hardware from Dell and install it today to do job X, and tomorrow it can do job Y. It gives customers the ability to pick and choose what's happening in their data center at any given point in time.

Compare that to the vendor lock in they're used to today in networking. But customers are starting to get savvy because they see the difference on the server side of the world. They can deploy VMware today and if they don't like VMware they can switch to Red Hat, use KVM as their hypervisor, or if they want to use workflow orchestration they can change to OpenStack. So it really isn't a lock-in on the hardware. You don't have to replace your hardware to switch between any of those things.

And many customers want to get to the point where it's the same on the network side. They can just buy the gear, cable it up, and then everything after that is simply a matter of software.

Will overlays, the network virtualization flavor of SDN, be all we'll really need going forward, or do you think a bigger picture SDN will emerge that involves more legacy equipment?

I think you're going to find customers going towards overlays over the next two or three years. It's starting now. We see it happening, and it's going to go pretty quickly, because it's so much easier to automate, diagnose, debug and provision than the old way. And we know that's true because look at all the big players -- the Googles, Amazons, Microsofts, the Facebooks -- they all use some form of overlay when they need to virtualize their networks. None of them use Layer 2 constructs anymore, and they haven't for a very long time.


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