When I first heard about Cumulus Networks in August 2013, I thought, “what’s the catch?” Now, after a year of working with companies deploying Cumulus Linux based switches in their production environments, it turns out there is really no catch. Open networking is for real.

The way you buy a server is now the way you can buy a switch

An open ecosystem has supported the server business for many years. One can build servers with components from various suppliers and run their choice of operating system. This same concept for the networking world, now called “open networking” for the disaggregated model of switch hardware and software, has long been on many wish lists.

The good news: this concept is a reality now, thanks to companies like Cumulus Networks whose OS, Cumulus Linux, is a Debian based distribution that is the OS for open networking on bare metal switches.

No License Gotchas

With Cumulus Linux, there are no additional or “enhanced” license fees akin to what traditional vendors have charged for years. The yearly renewal license fees cost the same each year – not a penny more. The yearly or multi-year license (option) can be ported from one switch original design manufacturer (ODM) to another – no vendor lock-in. Cumulus Networks partners with the same ODMs that manufacture switches for the traditional switch vendors, and the hardware compatibility list of switch platforms is growing, thus allowing many choices – all at a lower cost.

Manage your switches the way you manage your servers

One can manage their Cumulus Linux based switches using the same tools and applications as Linux servers. This familiarity and similarity allows for significant savings in CapEX and OpEx while delivering scalability and nimbleness to one’s datacenter operations. The abstraction of the operating system from the hardware layer as opposed to the traditional way of platform lock-in allows for an ever-growing application ecosystem: native Linux applications, third party applications and/or custom applications for business optimization.


More with Less

Companies choosing 10Gb or 40Gb bare metal switches with the Cumulus Networks OS find themselves in a unique, beneficial situation: they are able to purchase more datacenter hardware to scale out their environment without increasing their budget. In today’s data-driven world, additional compute and storage infrastructure at no extra cost can make quite a difference.

Rack Deployment Example:

Let’s do the math on a 10-rack build where each rack has 2x 10Gb Top-of-Rack (ToR) switches. Companies choosing a Cumulus Linux based switch approach can save anywhere from $16,000 to $28,000 per rack. This is using a bare metal switch with Cumulus Linux total cost of under $6k (with one year OS license.) There are other savings too, including thousands of dollars saved with third-party DAC (Direct attached Copper), AOC (Active Optical Cables) or optics at a fraction of the cost of “proprietary” optics and cables from traditional switch vendors.

The huge price range on the example above indicates the ambiguity in the pricing model that has existed for years on a company and/or opportunity basis. With Cumulus Linux, there is one price depending on the type of license and the market price range of the majority of the 10Gb validated switches is within $1,000 of each other. These costs are suddenly all transparent – a clear benefit of open networking.

Cumulus Networks is enabling business decisions

Companies deciding to move off the public cloud or managed hosting for business reasons often find themselves in a situation where the ToR networking costs from traditional switch vendors are just too expensive. If you’re in that situation, you might want to estimate your cost savings. At Racklive, I’m working with a few companies with plans to accelerate building their own datacenter hardware infrastructure, and the math adds up in their favor due to networking switch costs going down with bare metal switching and Cumulus Linux.

One thing is for sure, Cumulus Networks is a trailblazer in the open networking space and this technology is definitely changing the economics and operations of data center networking.

Gaurang Tanna works at Racklive, a systems integrator designing, building and deploying highly customized, turnkey server, storage and networking ‘roll-in-rack’ solutions for some of the leading web and mobile companies in the world. Racklive is an official Cumulus Networks partner and closely works with majority of the Cumulus validated switch hardware partners to provide a seamless experience to customers. To learn more, please visit www.racklive.com
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