Supply chains are fragile things. They’re a web of suppliers and distributors, of storage and shipping facilities, and of resellers, all working at just the right speeds and with just the right margin of error to keep things flowing smoothly. But any fragile system is inevitably vulnerable to world events.

With the increasing requirement to support remote work, a robust, adaptable network is a business necessity. But it can be a challenge to source the networking equipment you need when global trade is disrupted. Open networking—where you’re not locked into specific network components—gives you many supplier and platform options to choose from, increasing your flexibility to deal with sudden and substantial change.

The lean supply chain

Lean manufacturing has become a common business practice. An IndustryWeek survey in 2016 ranked lean manufacturing systems as one of the most important technological advancements (second only to quality management systems).

Lean companies prioritize efficiency and work to reduce waste. This often means that they don’t stockpile components or keep a large inventory of completed products, which keeps money from being tied up in excess goods or unused warehouse space.

Companies source parts and labor from across the globe in an effort to trim costs and remain competitive. In a 2017 survey by Geodis, 70% of respondents said that their supply chains were “very or extremely complex,” due in part to “global exchange.”

Unfortunately, the combination of these factors makes many supply chains vulnerable to catastrophic events.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on suppliers and distributors. Manufacturing of some goods has slowed or temporarily halted, and tougher border controls have led to delayed shipments. The International Monetary Fund forecasts a world economic contraction of -3%. This could result in suppliers, distributors, and vendors going out of business.

Organizations need to make sure their networking vendors can provide equipment and support in a timely fashion amid these disruptions. Open networking can help here, because it provides flexibility and choice.

Keep your options open (source)

Open networking means hardware and software are decoupled. You select the hardware you want to use, and select the NOS you wish to run on it separately. This is also known as network disaggregation.

Many open networking software stacks (including ours) are some variant of Linux, and can be managed as such. In many cases organizations can use their pre-existing automation, provisioning and inventory management systems to configure, secure and monitor their whitebox networking gear.

If a switch or router vendor becomes incapable of meeting your needs, moving to another vendor doesn’t require a hugely disruptive rip-and-replace. You can install familiar software on new hardware, keep your existing management toolset, and make the transition easier for network operators.

Moreover, open networking can help you stay flexible by making use of open source software. If your rapidly adapting data center needs code that doesn’t exist yet, you can create it—or find someone who already has.

Your organization can benefit from the expertise of many open source software developers, at all levels of the stack—from Linux kernel fundamentals to fast-path user-space networking accelerators; from open source, expandable network monitoring systems to highly secure remote connectivity solutions.

Production-ready automation

NVIDIA® Cumulus Linux is the most advanced automation-compatible network operating system. Validated templates and playbooks are available to get you started with automation right out of the box. This is not the time to be tinkering with handcrafted scripts and fighting with plug-ins.

All NVIDIA Cumulus automation resources are open source and available on GitLab for you to evaluate. Or, if you’d like to see automation in action, you can run a simulation in the free NVIDIA Cumulus in the Cloud virtual data center.

NVIDIA Cumulus can help you stay adaptable even if the networking landscape changes. Some of your suppliers may face shortages and delays, but the more choice you have in vendors, the more resilient you can be in the face of disruption. With NVIDIA Cumulus Linux, you’ll be able to route around damage to the supply chain and keep moving, leaving competitors in the dust.