In Q4 2013 at Dasher, we began our journey to create an OpenStack ecosystem that helps our clients as they transform their business and IT infrastructure. For years, Dasher has been helping clients move from physical to virtual environments. As business and IT needs evolved, more customers started evaluating moving from virtual to cloud environments and building their own private cloud. Dasher saw OpenStack becoming the de facto standard for private cloud, but proprietary black box network switches remained a misfit, giving rise to open networking — the disaggregation of network hardware from software.

A couple of our clients along with one of our senior solution architects, Ryan Day, suggested we explore Cumulus Networks® and learn about their Cumulus® Linux® offering. The results are highlighted below and we will attempt to answer: Why do we think the Cumulus Linux OS is a logical step in the evolution of network operating systems?

Cumulus Linux enables software-defined everything (SDE). SDE may be the cool new fad of 2015, but adopting SDE because it is what all the cool kids are doing is certainly not a reason to move to a new technology. Let’s explore Dasher’s reasons for recommending Cumulus Linux to our clients. Like all of the solutions we offer, it has to be the right technology and financial solution that meets our client’s environment, workloads and budgets.

Here are our top seven reasons to deploy Cumulus Linux:

  1. Cost: The practice of running a Linux operating system on industry-standard hardware brings some well-known cost benefits over traditional or proprietary systems. In this case, we’re talking about 1G, 10G, 40G and soon 100G switches with the same silicon ASICs the traditional network vendors use but running Cumulus Linux instead of a proprietary OS. For example, one analysis we performed showed that you could invest in Cumulus Linux plus hardware from a well-known manufacturer and get 10G equipment at the price of other folks’ 1G switches. The cost savings can get even more dramatic when SFP+ and QSFP optics are involved. Also, Cumulus Linux is subscription based, like other Linux distributions, which means even more cost savings.
  2. Choice: Adopting Cumulus Linux gives you the choice of which hardware vendor you invest in, and while the options include bare metal switch vendors like Accton/Edge-Core, Penguin Computing, Quanta and others, there are also options from “tier 1” hardware suppliers like Dell and HP. The tier 1 hardware vendors see a growing market for the SDN approach of decoupling software from hardware and now offer their own switches for use with Cumulus Linux. This freedom of choice is enabled by Cumulus Networks supporting the most commonly used networking chipsets on the planet: Broadcom’s Trident family of chips.
  3. Automation: Cumulus Linux is… just… Linux. It is not an application based on Linux, it is literally a Linux operating system, and Bash is its default shell. Therefore, it lends itself to the same configuration management toolsets and, by extension, the same continuous integration and continuous deployment tools that DevOps or automation-focused IT teams already use today. Tools like Puppet, Chef, Ansible and Salt work with Cumulus Linux in the exact same way they would with any other Debian-based Linux distribution.
  4. Scale: While you could certainly introduce Cumulus Linux in your network at the edge for top of rack (ToR) L2/L3 switching, there is a strong focus on supporting the industry trend of moving from a 3-tier networking architecture (core-aggregation-edge) to a 2-tier networking architecture (spine-leaf). This enables massively scalable and performant networks and much easier optimization for east-west traffic. Web scale environments are being copied by enterprises, and guess what, Web scale is based on ease of management, low cost, programmability and software-defined everything, which is what Cumulus Networks brings to the table.
  5. Standards-based Technology: In addition to being a Linux operating system, Cumulus Networks follows open standards-based feature implementations and fosters a strong community with collaboration and contribution from their install base. Part of the secret sauce for Cumulus Linux is the ability to write code that interfaces with the ASICs in the network switch. This is a licensed technology, and therefore is the only part of Cumulus Linux that is not open source.
  6. Support: One thing we found pleasantly surprising is that Cumulus Networks provides a support model intended to reduce or eliminate the finger pointing that can occur between hardware and software vendors. They do this by providing diagnostic support for the platforms on their hardware compatibility list. They maintain intimate knowledge of the hardware they support, and they continue to test new software releases against previously certified hardware. When needed, our experiences with the Cumulus Networks support organization have been industry leading. And the Cumulus Networks subscription-based license includes the license cost and maintenance, providing you with the support you need to feel confident in your use of Cumulus Linux.
  7. Knowledge: Many DevOps, systems or network IT groups already have Linux expertise in house, and those skill sets are perfectly applicable to Cumulus Linux, which can drastically reduce or eliminate the learning curve associated with implementing technology from a new vendor. Still, there’s always something to learn, and Cumulus Networks offers training courses and a lab environment for folks to learn or to test changes.

Some example use cases for Cumulus Linux include:

  • Using it in an underlay network
  • Building an OpenStack cloud with overlay networks, Hadoop clusters or other distributed systems where throughput is paramount and affordability is critical
  • Almost any other environment where network automation is needed and Linux skills are available

If you’re currently evaluating network technologies, Cumulus Linux is definitely worth exploring, and we are happy to help educate you about their solutions. They also have Cumulus® VX™ and Cumulus Workbench, which make it really easy to get to know Cumulus Linux solutions for yourself.

Ryan Day is a Senior Solution Architect at Dasher and Chris Saso is Executive Vice President, Technology at Dasher.