As we’ve discussed in a previous blog post, it can be difficult to determine whether or not a vendor is truly as open as they claim to be. Sure, your network provider says they support open solutions, but the reality is they take advantage of open networking’s flexible definition to market not-so-flexible networks. How can you be certain that you’re investing in the open network your data center deserves?

Never fear, Gartner is here! Their report on gauging vendors’ openness provides you with five easy questions to help you take a machete to the forest of false advertisement. So, how does Cumulus Networks stack up to these requirements, and how have we maintained our dedication to open networking? Let’s take a look at Gartner’s criteria — we think you’ll find that this open model fits Cumulus like a glove.

1) How simple is the solution?

We’ve broken down the qualifications for a simple solution into three parts. First of all, managing your network should be easy from the moment it comes online. Cumulus Linux is an operating system that ensures a simple start. A few features that guarantee a confusion-free beginning include:

  • Zero Touch Provisioning (ZTP) – ZTP enables network devices to be quickly deployed in large-scale environments. On first boot, Cumulus Linux will invoke ZTP, which executes the provisioning automation used to deploy the device for its intended role in the network. The provisioning framework allows for a one-time, user-provided script to be executed. With ZTP, you can reduce provisioning time from weeks or months to seconds and minutes.
  • Prescriptive Topology Manager (PTM) – Data center cabling is a huge pain and time-consuming effort. PTM simplifies this process by validating that all the cables are in the right place. PTM leverages standard Linux and open source tools and protocols for ease of use, and interoperates with any network devices or server hosts that support industry-standard LLDP.

In addition to being easy to start, Cumulus open solutions are easy to use. Our user-friendly OS makes a networking engineer’s life less complicated and stressful. We’ve simplified the networking experience with:

  • Network Command Line Utility (NCLU) – NCLU was designed to quicken the learning curve so all network engineers can use it, while integrating with and still supporting the traditional Linux methods. This command line interface for Cumulus Networks products provides consistent access to networking commands directly via bash, thereby making configuration and troubleshooting simple. No need to edit files or enter modes and sub-modes.
  • eBGP Unnumbered — eBGP unnumbered provides organizations with a routed fabric through a leaf and spine network by running eBGP through the leaf and spine. With Cumulus’ eBGP unnumbered, you don’t have to assign IP addresses to any of these links. In other words, it eliminates the nightmare of IP address management with all those /30s or /31s.
  • Free Range Routing (FRR) – FRR is Cumulus’ solution to do Routing on the Host. What Routing on the Host provides is the ability to speak eBGP down to a server. It is open source software designed by Cumulus Networks and other contributors to streamline the routing protocol stack and to make engineers’ lives that much easier. It provides layer 3 connectivity throughout a data center, from the spine switches and leaf switches all the way down to hosts, virtual machines and containers.
  • Controller-less SDN – Unlike the SDN controller-based options in the marketplace today, Cumulus Networks allows you to completely customize your network based on your needs and your budget. You can leverage existing automation tools, existing talent and existing processes to fully automate a flexible web-scale network. As a next-generation control-plane solution for VXLAN tunnels that uses the BGP routing protocol, EVPN provides high scale, redundancy, traffic engineering, multi-tenant separation and fast convergence for host and VM mobility — all while interoperating between vendors by featuring both asymmetric and symmetric routing methods.
  • Multi-tenancy and security – Cumulus created another open tool called Virtual Routing & Forwarding (VRF). VRFs will isolate routing tables between tenants, allowing for multi-tenancy within the environment. We contributed VRF to the Linux kernel and it is now part of the Linux ecosystem. You can install VRFs on Linux onto your servers just as you would your switches.

Finally, we come to the last of the three “easy E’s” of simple networking solutions: easy to try. If you don’t have a lot of experience with open networking or you’re just “Cumulus curious,” Cumulus Networks has two robust ways to demo our technology:

  • Cumulus in the Cloud — With Cumulus in the Cloud, you can test all of our products (Cumulus Linux, NetQ and Host Pack) for free in a virtual private data center environment accessed from your web browser.
  • Cumulus VX — If you’re looking for a demo that runs on all popular hypervisors, then we’ve got good news for you. Cumulus VX is a free virtual appliance used to explore Cumulus Linux in more detail.

2) How does the solution integrate with my existing network infrastructure?

A proprietary solution forces you to accommodate to their needs. Cumulus Networks, on the other hand, makes sure that configurations are simple and integration is a breeze. Here are some of the ways we can adapt to your infrastructure:

  • Easy integration with Linux-based data center solutions – These solutions include Linux-based container tools , private clouds (like OpenStack), monitoring tools (such as Sensu) and DevOps tools (like Ansible and Puppet). While other networking vendors claim they also support Ansible, they don’t offer it natively. If you want to use Ansible with any other vendor, you have to use their proprietary module to communicate.
  • Workflow automation — Cumulus provides the ability to build “workflow” automations, instead of device automations. Using the same Linux-based automation tools as servers means end-to-end orchestration is possible, where a new server can be deployed and all relevant network configuration is applied. You can then use that same automation tool to provision your top of rack switch VLANs, provision the VNIs across the fabric and provision rules on a firewall.
  • Integration with non-proprietary SDN controllers — If you have invested in one of the open SDN controller offerings, like OpenContrail or VMware NSX, Cumulus can be very valuable. We’ll work with you on creating a software-driven network with Cumulus Linux that integrates with your solutions. Plus, you can still have consistent server provisioning across the virtual and physical infrastructure.

3) How flexible is the solution to manage?

At Cumulus Networks, we believe in offering a network that can adjust and scale to your specific requirements. As opposed to traditional solutions, you’ll find that Cumulus Linux provides:

  • Easy to scale architecture — Cumulus set out to help design cost-effective, agile networks for the modern automation era with web-scale constructs like Google, Facebook & Amazon. To do this, we recommend the Clos or leaf/spine architecture. The leaf-spine topology improves networks, making them more scalable, more reliable and more predictable. All devices have “roles” (leaf and spine) in the network, which simplifies configuration and troubleshooting. Now you can manage your data center networks with ease. We have 3,500 data center switches in operation with a global leader in computing and AI, 2,000 switches at global consumer products company and 1,500 switches at an international telco — just as an example.
  • Easy to scale operations — Companies need to be able to scale out the network to support more bandwidth, to support more servers, etc. But you can’t continue to build larger and larger networks that require you to build larger and larger network teams. Using the easy to manage features above, the ratio of network engineers can be 1:500 vs 1:20. This is the key difference that Cumulus brings to the table versus Cisco and Arista

4) How modular is the solution?

Cumulus open solutions enable you to change, adapt and upgrade your network as needed. Our company remains loyal to that mission by offering:

  • Linux-based operations — We remove the bottleneck traditional networks have caused with their vertically stacked proprietary solutions, freeing up the ability to develop future applications that have yet to be invented. Linux levels the playing field by providing a standard infrastructure for all. By utilizing the dominant language in the data center, you can affordably build and efficiently operate your network like the world’s largest data center operators, unlocking vertical network stacks.
  • Open-source and community optimization — If you look at the Linux kernel alone, with its 22 million lines of code, you’ll find a strong community developing it behind the scenes. In 2016, one report said that over 5,000 individual developers representing 500 different corporations around the world contributed to enhancements in the Linux kernel, not to mention all the other surrounding applications and services. A staggering 13,500 developers from more than 1,300 companies have contributed to the Linux kernel since 2005.
  • Full-function networking — Over the years, Linux has built up a strong set of networking capabilities, including networking tools for providing and managing routing, bridging, DNS, DHCP, network troubleshooting, virtual networking and network monitoring.

5) Does the solution decouple hardware from software and provide options for leveraging different vendors for various elements?

We are pioneers of disaggregation. Vertically stacked networking has thwarted innovation for too long. By decoupling hardware from software, Cumulus helps customers reap the benefits of disaggregation such as:

  • Freedom of choice — By separating hardware and software, you get to choose how to run your business. We give you choice of hardware, silicon, cabling, architecture, optics, protocols and so on. In fact, Cumulus Linux is supported on over 70 hardware platforms.
  • Increasing cost efficiency — Who doesn’t like saving money? With disaggregation, you have the ability to achieve a lower TCO for your data center. Cumulus running on bare metal switches can reduce networking CapEx costs by 45% and OpEx costs by up to 75%!

As far as determining openness goes, it looks like Cumulus gets an A+ from this assessment! Make sure to check out the rest of Gartner’s report for more insight about the qualities of open vendors. And, if you’re interested in learning more about what Cumulus does and how we contribute to the open networking movement, watch this video for an entertaining overview of our company and products.